Idris Elba Reflects On ‘Incredibly Lucky’ COVID-19 Recovery And Portraying A Black Cowboy

During a slate of interviews promoting his latest project, “Concrete Cowboys,” Idris Elba shared about his experiences recovering from COVID-19 and portraying a cowboy on screen. 

“I don’t suffer any residual effects and during my time with COVID, I was asymptomatic,” Elba told USA Today in an interview published on Wednesday. “But I guess I feel incredibly lucky to have not gone down the worst route and thus it’s given me a slightly different perspective on life, a little bit more of a new lease on life. There are things that I’ve always wanted to do and haven’t done that I’m doing and want to do and pursuing. Personal things, small goals, things that I just put aside, things that I just said, ‘Oh, I’ll do that one day,’ but now I’m doing.”

The British star, known for standout roles on television in “The Wire” and on the big screen in films like “Pacific Rim,” was one of the first celebrities to announce his COVID-19 diagnosis last March amid the onset of the pandemic in the U.S.

At the time, Elba publicly said he was concerned about how the virus might affect his asthma, promoted social distancing and released a Twitter video encouraging everyone to stay home and “be pragmatic.” Elba’s wife, model Sabrina Dhowre Elba, also contracted the virus.

“More than anything, we all binged on films and stories and books during this time, especially during the hardest times of lockdown,” Elba told USA Today, revealing that he particularly enjoyed binging “The Queen’s Gambit” and the 1970s British crime show “The Professionals.” “I feel really lucky and thankful to be able to be back to work making films, telling stories, making characters.”

Elba’s latest film, scheduled to debut this Friday on Netflix, features the star as the estranged father of a 15-year-old Detroit boy, played by Caleb McLaughlin of “Stranger Things” fame.

Inspired by the Black horseback riding community in Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street stables, and by Greg Neri’s novel “Ghetto Cowboy,” the movie highlights the Black cowboy ― a concept long obscured by the predominantly white Westerns of Hollywood. 

Elba, who endured horse allergy symptoms to make the movie, told The Associated Press that his father was a fan of Westerns and he “grew up sort of watching them with a side eye.”

“It didn’t occur to me until the Bob Marley song ‘Buffalo Soldier,’ which opened my interest about Black cowboys,” Elba said. “And it occurred to me: I’ve been making films forever and I’ve never been offered a Western. You realize there’s a deep history that spans America and Africa over decades, centuries in fact, that you’ve never seen in film.”

Historians have estimated that 1 in 4 cowboys were Black. Their role in the American West seldom appeared on film, but acting as a cowboy and herding cattle was one of the few jobs aside from menial labor open to Black men immediately following the Civil War.

The Lone Ranger ― one of the most famous fictional cowboys of all ― is speculated to have been inspired, at least in part, by Black deputy marshal Bass Reeves, according to biographer Art T. Burton. 

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