“There’s a very specific construction of history, and that’s how we are taught that the world was shaped and formed and how America was developed, and it often excludes people of color,” says Hunt. Save for Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 Western Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx as a slave-turned-cowboy bounty hunter, most Hollywood depictions of the Wild West have whitewashed black characters from their storylines. Among the most famous (and egregious) examples, The Lone Ranger is widely believed by historians to be inspired by the story of Bass Reeves, a former slave who became one of the first black deputy marshals in the U.S. The character is played onscreen by a masked white cowboy.
For this reason, visitors to “Black Cowboy” may be surprised by what they find. “My assumption is these are all images we’re less familiar with, just in terms of our collective unconscious in America,” says Hunt. “I think the pleasure of creating something like this is of discovery; you’re able to uncover these things that have existed for a long time before you found them.”
And in pursuit of that curiosity, Hunt discovered a diverse swath of these communities. “There are families who have been in Oklahoma for three generations doing this, and there are kids in Philadelphia and Queens and Los Angeles who have been doing this for generations as well. It’s important to show both, because they exist,” she says.