These Western Films Highlight Black Cowboys and How We Tamed the Wild Wild West

Black westerns, and westerns featuring Black actors in general, are an important part of American cinema. They challenge the traditional, often white-washed view of the Wild West, highlighting the underrepresented role Black cowboys played in taming the American frontier. Black actors have portrayed these heroes and complex characters, some based on real-life individuals, for decades, bringing imagery rarely seen in the American landscape back to the forefront. These films allow Black audiences to see themselves reflected in a genre where we have been erased, living Western lives that haven’t been praised in our historic American fabric. Here, we celebrate films that have boldly stepped beyond the bonds of Hollywood to tell our cowboy and Western stories as they deserve to be told.

The Harder They Fall (2021)

This gripping Western combines action, drama and revenge. Set in the untamed West, it follows the story of outlaw Nat Love as he seeks vengeance against a ruthless gang led by Rufus Buck. Fueled by a personal vendetta and a desire for justice, Nat assembles a diverse team of gunslingers to take down Rufus and his crew. Intense gunfights, complex characters and themes of redemption from the team of producer Jay-Z and writer/director Jeymes Samuel.

Wild Wild West (1999)

An action-packed comedy set in the American West during the 19th century, Will Smith stars as James West, a charismatic lawman alongside his inventive partner Artemus Gordon. Together, they must stop a diabolical Dr. Loveless from overthrowing the government with his advanced weaponry. It’s a wild ride of action and charm.

Concrete Cowboy (2020)

This father-son coming-of-age story teaches valuable lessons about family, identity, and belonging. Caleb McLaughlin plays Cole, a troubled teenager who discovers the urban horseback riding culture of North Philadelphia while reconnecting with Harp, his estranged father, portrayed by Idris Elba. It’s a poignant ride through a unique subculture.

Rosewood (1997)

This powerful historical drama, directed by the late John Singleton, is set in 1923 in the small Florida town of Rosewood and explores the harrowing true story of racial violence and injustice. When a white woman falsely accuses a Black man of assaulting her, it ignites a wave of brutal retaliation against the African American community. As tensions escalate, a hero (portrayed by Ving Rhames) arises, leading his fellow residents in a desperate fight for survival and justice.

Outlaw Johnny Black (2023)

Michael Jai White plays Johnny Black, a notorious outlaw with a heart of gold. Black roams the Wild West with his ragtag band of misfits, fighting injustice and seeking revenge on those who wronged him. Fueled with humor, action and a little bit of romance, it’s a thrilling ride through dusty trails.

Posse (1993)

Directed by and starring Mario Van Peebles, Posse follows a group of African American soldiers who desert the U.S. Army after witnessing the injustices faced by their people. Led by Van Peebles’ Jesse Lee, they embark on a journey of revenge and redemption while confronting corrupt lawmen and racial oppression in the Wild West.

Joshua (1976)

Fred Williamson stars in the titled role of this Western-tinged action flick. Set in the urban landscape of 1970s America, Joshua returns home to find his neighborhood overrun by crime and corruption. So this badass ex-soldier takes matters into his own hands, cleaning up the streets and avenging those who have been wronged.

Gang of Roses (2003)

Director Jean-Claude La Marre brings together a fierce ensemble cast, including Lisa Raye McCoy, Lil Kim, Stacey Dash, Monica Calhoun, and Macy Gray, to play female outlaws seeking vengeance against the ruthless outlaw who killed their sister. The story proves that the bonds of sisterhood are unbreakable.

Buffalo Soldiers (1997)

Set against the backdrop of Cold War Germany, African American soldiers, led by seasoned actor Danny Glover, find themselves drawn into a world of illicit dealings and moral dilemmas, exploring themes of loyalty, camaraderie and the harsh realities of war. The cast includes Glen Turman and Carl Lumbly.

Buck and the Preacher (1972)

Sidney Poitier leads this Western experience. The acclaimed actor portrays Buck, a skilled wagon master and former Union soldier who teams up with a determined preacher, played by Harry Belafonte, to lead a group of African American pioneers to settle in the Western frontier.

Fire on the Hill (2018)

This compelling documentary takes us inside South Central LA’s vibrant but little-known Black cowboy community. Fire on the Hill tells the story of the South Central and Compton Cowboys and their last stronghold: a horse stable known as the Hill that was mysteriously set on fire in 2012. It’s the ultimate urban cowboy as we’ve never seen them before.

Lawmen: Bass Reves (2023)

Dive into the remarkable true story of Bass Reeves, one of the first African American Deputy U.S. Marshals in the Wild West. David Oyelowo plays Reeves in the series, who navigates the rugged Western terrain as he brings justice to the lawless frontier with his sharp wit, unparalleled marksmanship and unwavering dedication to upholding the law.

Updated: May 17, 2024 — 3:01 pm