Black Westerns

Black Westerns

12 Episodes

As the civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1960s, leading filmmakers and stars sought to reshape the myths of the Hollywood western. Sidney Poitier, Gordon Parks, and even John Ford were among the directors who drew on the historical experiences of African Americans to tell unexplored stories. In the decades that followed, Black actors from Woody Strode and Poitier (who broke with his urbane image in his thrilling directorial debut BUCK AND THE PREACHER) to Vonetta McGee and Ving Rhames would repeatedly play key roles as cattle rustlers, cavalrymen, outlaws, and bounty hunters in bold revisions of the genre. Featuring works by Mario van Peebles, John Singleton, and Gordon Parks Jr., this selection curated by guest programmer Mia Mask shows how the western aged and changed. It incorporated Blaxploitation (THOMASINE AND BUSHROD), documentary (BLACK RODEO), historical drama (ROSEWOOD), and the coming-of-age film (THE LEARNING TREE) as new generations of artists sought to broaden our understanding of the old frontier.

Please be advised: some of the films contain offensive racist language, racial stereotypes, and graphic violence directed against Black and Native American people. For more information, we suggest watching film scholar and guest programmer Mia Mask contextualize the films in the “Introducing Black Westerns” program below.

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Black Westerns
  • Introducing Black Westerns

    Episode 1

    The following interview with film scholar Mia Mask was recorded in 2020. Viewer discretion advised: this video discusses racial trauma, slavery, and racial slurs.

  • Sergeant Rutledge

    Episode 2

    Directed by John Ford • 1960 • United States
    Starring Woody Strode, Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Towers

    In 1866, new fighting units comprised of African American recruits—nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers because of the bison coats they wore in winter—were formed within the United States Cavalry. Against ...

  • Duel at Diablo

    Episode 3

    Directed by Ralph Nelson • 1966 • United States
    Starring James Garner, Sidney Poitier, Bibi Andersson

    Stylishly directed by Ralph Nelson and featuring a memorable and rousing score by Neal Hefti, DUEL AT DIABLO is a tale that will grip you from beginning to end. Frontier scout Jess Remsberg (Jam...

  • The Learning Tree

    Episode 4

    Directed by Gordon Parks • 1969 • United States
    Starring Kyle Johnson, Alex Clarke, Estelle Evans

    The first film directed by an African American for a major American studio, THE LEARNING TREE is a personal triumph for director-producer-writer-composer Gordon Parks. Adapted from his own autobiogr...

  • El Condor

    Episode 5

    Directed by John Guillermin • 1970 • United States
    Starring Jim Brown, Lee Van Cleef, Patrick O’Neal

    Just over the border, along the most rugged stretch of frontier between the United States and Mexico, lies a place know as El Condor, an impregnable fortress that holds a fortune in gold. In Apac...

  • Black Rodeo

    Episode 6

    Directed by Jeff Kanew • 1972 • United States

    In 1971, a parade of African American cowboys rode into Harlem for a one-of-a-kind event: New York City’s first-ever Black rodeo. This remarkable, rarely-seen documentary offers a vivid, firsthand look at this unique cultural moment, which, for many ...

  • Buck and the Preacher

    Episode 7

    Directed by Sidney Poitier • 1972 • United States
    Starring Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee

    Civil War veteran Buck (Sidney Poitier) has signed on to guide a wagon train of newly freed slaves moving to claim homesteads in the west. Along with Buck’s wife, Ruth (Ruby Dee), who works tirel...

  • The Legend of Black Charley

    Episode 8

    Directed by Martin Goldman • 1972 • United States
    Starring Fred Williamson, D’Urville Martin, Don Pedro Colley

    “I’m a free man, and I’ll die a free man.” After he kills a white man in self-defense, the enslaved Charley (professional football player turned actor Fred Williamson) heads west with h...

  • Thomasine and Bushrod

    Episode 9

    Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. • 1974 • United States
    Starring Max Julien, Vonetta McGee, George Murdock

    Blaxploitation’s answer to BONNIE AND CLYDE follows the exploits of early-twentieth-century bounty hunter Thomasine (Vonetta McGee) and the bandit Bushrod (Max Julien), who, after they rekindle...

  • Rosewood

    Episode 10

    Directed by John Singleton • 1997 • United States
    Starring Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle

    A false accusation, an angry mob, and an American tragedy kept secret for more than sixty years: in 1923, the predominantly Black Rosewood, Florida, is razed by white vigilantes when a woman falsely a...

  • Buffalo Soldiers

    Episode 11

    Directed by Charles Haid • 1997 • United States
    Starring Danny Glover, Mykelti Williamson, Lamont Bentley

    Freed following the Civil War, former slave Washington Wyatt (Danny Glover) heads west in search of a new life far from Southern oppression. Enlisted by the U.S. Army to fight in the Apache ...

  • Black Westerns Teaser

    Episode 12