Cowboys of Colour: Black Lives in the West and the Western

Thursday 22 October

Guest speaker: Helena Bacon School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing UEA.

The American Western has almost always depicted its iconic heroes as tough-talking, rough-riding, six-shooting, grizzled, solitary and, overwhelmingly, white. From John Ford’s frequent collaborations with John Wayne, Henry Fonda and James Steward and Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, most notably the ‘Dollars’ trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, to the revisionist Westerns of the seventies, contemporary remakes of old classics, or the neo-Westerns of today that frequently place typical western characters into modern civilised surroundings, cowboys of colour remain notably absent in the genre’s representation of the history and meaning surrounding the American frontier and its occupants.

This representation however, as Sarfraz Manzoor points out in his BBC documentary The Forgotten Black Cowboys (2013), does not match the reality of the western experience. This paper will explore the reality of the black western experience, referencing Manzoor’s documentary and accompanying articles, Ferguson’s images, Tricia Martineau Wagner’s Black Cowboys of the Old West (2010) and The Black Cowboys of Texas (2000), edited by Sara R. Massey.

Using this critical framework as a starting point, Helena will explore examples of the Western genre that break with genre convention and feature cowboys of colour, such as Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974), Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), David Milch’s Deadwood (2004-2006) and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012), to examine whether these characters present a more realistic portrayal of a wild, but not wholly white, west.

Admission: Free Time 6 PM