"You're going to be a gangbanger or you're going to be a cowboy. You can't be both."

Weighed down by stereotypes of gang violence and corruption, the city of Compton, California, can always use a story about the good things that go on there.

Currently in production, the documentary "Fire on the Hill" tells one of those stories—about a Compton with cowboys. And stables. And a rich, complex history of black and Latino ranching culture that may be on the brink of extinction.  

"It was like a different way of life, in the inner city," says Calvin, one of the three featured cowboys, in the trailer. "You'd never know it was there."

The titular "Hill" refers to one of a handful of stables in the area, which has been partly zoned for agriculture since Griffith D. Compton donated his land to Los Angeles County to create the city in 1889. "The Hill" has been around for at least 70 years, according to one of the film's subjects, sheltering horses and training rodeo cowboys. In recent decades, it's been a refuge to young black and Latino men seeking an alternative to the more dangerous paths that living in Compton can offer.

"It's either you're going to be a gangbanger or you're going to be a cowboy," says another cowboy, Ghuan. "You can't be both."

The city's Old West culture has been ebbing for years, according to the filmmakers, pushed out by industrialization, urban development, and crime. But the nail in the coffin may have come in 2012, when the Hill "mysteriously burned to the ground," possibly the result of arson. Now, Compton's cowboys are fighting to rebuild their singular community as the modern world closes in.

More than halfway to its fundraising goal on Kickstarter, "Fire on the Hill" reveals a little-seen side of Compton—and it's urgent that it gets seen now.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Passengers line up for a bullet train at a platform in Tokyo Station.
    Transportation

    The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations

    The nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some subtle behavioral tricks.

  2. Transportation

    Madrid Takes Its Car Ban to the Next Level

    Starting in November, the city will make clear that downtown streets are not for drivers.

  3. Equity

    The Disputed Second Life of an American Internment Camp

    In Northern California, a debate is raging about a plan to build a fence around the small airport sitting on a site where people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were American citizens, were forcibly interned.

  4. A sign for women-first parking in a Seoul shopping center.
    Life

    What’s Up With Seoul’s Pink Parking Spaces for Women?

    They’re like regular parking spaces. Except, you know, pink.

  5. Transportation

    Why Are Little Kids in Japan So Independent?

    In Japan, small children take the subway and run errands alone, no parent in sight. The reason why has more to do with social trust than self-reliance.