"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. Life

    How Australia Conquered Guns, and Why America Can't

    Gun control advocates point to Australia for inspiration in ending gun violence. The Australian Ambassador to the United States, Joe Hockey, thinks they should stop.

  2. Equity

    Wakanda: The Chocolatest City

    The new Marvel superhero movie Black Panther shows the benefits and the risks associated with sustaining and protecting a majority-black community.  

  3. The G2 parcel at Taylor Yard in the City of Los Angeles
    Equity

    Can the L.A. River Avoid 'Green Gentrification'?

    As the city rediscovers the river, the future of communities along its path hangs in the balance.

  4. POV

    Can a Mayor Take the White House?

    Historically, running a city has been no help to presidential aspirants. But that might soon change.

  5. World map showing the 400-plus large cities that sit in biodiversity hotspots
    Environment

    Mapping the 'Conflict Zones' Between Sprawl and Biodiversity

    If cities keep growing as they do now, nearly 400 of them will sprawl into the habitats of endangered species by 2030.