In the opening scene of Posse, an elderly black man, holding a Peacemaker revolver, sits before yellowed photographs of black cowboys and talks about how Hollywood and the white man have distorted the true history of the West: ”Almost one out of three cowboys was black” he says. ”But we never hear their stories.”
This narrator — the only eyewitness left to tell the story of Posse — is played by 78-year-old Woody Strode, one of the few black actors who could tell a tale or two about those Hollywood Westerns of the 1950s and ’60s. Strode has appeared in more than 75 films, including John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Throughout his career Strode cultivated a stalwart cowboy image that now lends Posse an unmistakable whiff of authenticity. So it’s not surprising that he was the only actor Posse director-star Mario Van Peebles would consider for the part.
Knowing that Van Peebles envisioned a Western unlike any he’d been in before, Strode told him, ”I haven’t acted in a while, son, so c’mon and direct me — don’t go hedgin’ just because I been with John Ford and such.” But when presented with the Posse script, the Hollywood veteran admits he was taken aback by some of his dialogue. ”I have to say I blushed a little at first, reading the things I’d be saying about the white man.”
But Strode’s unease was replaced by a sense of triumph that he, perhaps more than anyone else, could relish. ”I still can’t believe I’ve lived to see the day,” he says, ”when a young black man like Mario would be given money to direct this kind of movie and get to say the things he’s saying. And I’m the one who gets to say it. Let me tell you, it’s a real kick.”