Black Rodeo

A History of the African American Western

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Pub Date 28 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 29 Mar 2023

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African American westerns have a rich cinematic history and visual culture. Mia Mask examines the African American western hero within the larger context of film history by considering how Black westerns evolved and approached wide-ranging goals. Woody Strode’s 1950s transformation from football star to actor was the harbinger of hard-edged western heroes later played by Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. Sidney Poitier’s Buck and the Preacher provided a narrative helmed by a groundbreaking African American director and offered unconventionally rich roles for women. Mask moves from these discussions to consider blaxploitation westerns and an analysis of Jeff Kanew’s hard-to-find 1972 documentary about an all-Black rodeo. The book addresses how these movies set the stage for modern-day westploitation films like Django Unchained. 

A first-of-its kind survey, Black Rodeo illuminates the figure of the Black cowboy while examining the intersection of African American film history and the western.

African American westerns have a rich cinematic history and visual culture. Mia Mask examines the African American western hero within the larger context of film history by considering how Black...

Advance Praise

“Mask provides an insightful commentary on the Civil Rights era and its African American-themed Westerns from today's perspective.”--Angela Aleiss, author of Hollywood's Native Americans: Stories of Identity and Resistance

“Mask provides an insightful commentary on the Civil Rights era and its African American-themed Westerns from today's perspective.”--Angela Aleiss, author of Hollywood's Native Americans: Stories of...

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ISBN 9780252086977
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Featured Reviews

this was a really well done nonfiction historical book, it was a unique western book and a movie book. I enjoyed the way Mia Mask wrote this, I was never bored when reading and thought it was what I wanted it. I look forward to what Mia Mask comes out next and am glad I read this.

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I’ve always wanted to learn more about black cowboys ever since I learned how much of the Wild West had been white washed and this book helped scratch that itch a bit more.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for allowing me to read this e-ARC. This does not impact my review in any way and all words are my own opinion.

A highly educational and strong read. Mask presents a thesis that while I had heard before, I had never really considered the greater impact on our cultural psyche. The numerous examples and long list of films examined ensured that the evidence was well-researched and developed in detail. I really enjoyed this read, especially Mask's discussion of intersectionality in western films.

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher University of Illinois Press for a digital ARC - pub date 2/28/2023. First off, I want to admit that this book is about a topic I know next to nothing about; I picked it solely based on how interesting the topic sounded. While I have a pretty healthy knowledge of actual Western history (and not just the white-washed stuff), my brushes with Western MOVIE history is woefully sparse. Needless to say, this book has added quite a few new movies to my To Watch list and I am fascinated.

I say all of this to let you know that, coming in as a pretty blank slate, I still understood and followed this wonderfully written and researched book. Some of the finer details of cinema lingo slipped past me but it was quite accessible in a lot of ways. The author traced the line of Black Westerns - the trends, the stars, the issues, the history (both real and reel). She also drew clear ties between how the movies were affected by socio-political state of the surrounding world. Most of the information revolved around the American side of the genre and the impacts felt on both sides of the screen. However, there were brief, natural divergences into the popularity of the Western in other countries and how those other countrieds developed and turned the camera lens on the stories in different ways.

The author was very clear in her historical facts and her conclusions and analyses flowed naturally from her research. This was clearly a topic she loved and cared deeply about. Her interest increased my own, in fact. There was no gushing or blind devotion in her words, though. Just research and honesty and an enjoyment of the genre's rich (and mostly forgotten, sadly) history.

Like I said, I have a few new movies to watch. I better get on it!

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A fantastically detailed look at the subgenre of Black westerns. Mask delivers a strong analysis of several films, from Buck and the Preacher to recent films like Django Unchained and The Harder They Fall. Highly recommend this volume to anyone looking to learn more about cinema, westerns, and Black cinema culture.

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Shut out of Oscar nominations, Jordan Peele’s acclaimed neo-Western sci-fi horror film Nope deserved better. While it was wildly entertaining, it also explored how Hollywood has tokenized non-white people, commodified both landscape and wildlife and underscored who the West really belongs to (hint: it’s not colonizer cowboys). Mask, a professor of African-American cinema at Vassar College in New York, probes similar themes in her book, subtitled “A History of the African American Western.” It spans rich cinematic history and visual culture, from the days of Woody Strode in the 1950s and Sidney Poitier Black cowboy roles in the 1970s, to contemporary westploitation films like Django Unchained. So much of Hollywood history consists of retreading the same material that it’s a rare treat to get a first-of-its-kind survey, especially when it’s as eye-opening and thought-provoking as this.
Was delighted to highlighted this new release in “Oscar Ready,” a round-up of new and notable cinema cultural history and Hollywood-themed titles in the Books section of Zoomer magazine. (see above)

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Mia Mask is a professor of film at Vassar College. She gave a presentation at the Sidney Poitier International Conference and Film Festival. It was about her favorite western, Buck and the Preacher. It starred Mr. Poitier and Harry Belafonte. That ignited an idea. She began researching the contributions of African Americans in cinema and history.
The result of that research is her book, Black Rodeo: A History of The African American Western.
It’s a no-nonsense look at the achievements of the pioneers the truly neglected in our history books.
Dr. Mask concentrates on Black film pioneers who started small and expanded to a respected part of the industry.
I thank NetGalley for sending me the book, and I highly recommend it.

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This is an amazing survey of Western cinema and American film where it concerns Black cowboys and roles in Westerns. I love westerns so I found this highly informative. It was also very approachable in its delivery of information. I would reread this book - and someday hope to! Film buffs need to add this one to their collections.

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