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Buck and the Preacher

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Buck and the Preacher
Buck and the preacher poster.jpg
Film Poster
Directed bySidney Poitier
Written byErnest Kinoy
Produced byJoel Gilckman
StarringSidney Poitier
Harry Belafonte
Ruby Dee
CinematographyAlex Phillips Jr.
Edited byPembroke J. Herring
Music byBenny Carter
E & R Productions
Belafonte Enterprises
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • April 28, 1972 (1972-04-28) (New York City)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States

Buck and the Preacher is a 1972 American Western film released by Columbia Pictures, written by Ernest Kinoy and directed by Sidney Poitier. Poitier also stars in the film alongside Harry Belafonte and Ruby Dee.

This is the first film Sidney Poitier directed. Vincent Canby of The New York Times said Poitier "showed a talent for easy, unguarded, rambunctious humor missing from his more stately movies".[1]

This film broke Hollywood Western traditions by casting black actors as central characters and portraying both tension and solidarity between African Americans and Native Americans in the late 19th century. The notable blues musicians Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Don Frank Brooks performed in the film's soundtrack, composed by jazz great Benny Carter.[2]


Set in the late 1860s in the Kansas Territory shortly after the American Civil War, Buck and the Preacher follows a former soldier named Buck as he leads wagon trains of African Americans from Louisiana west to the unsettled territories of Kansas. In order to ensure safe passage and food for his company, Buck negotiates with the Native Americans in the area. He pays them, and in turn they allow him to kill limited numbers of buffalo to eat, and to pass through their land providing they do it quickly.

A group of violent white men are hired by plantation owners in Louisiana to raid the African American wagon trains and settlements to either scare them back to Louisiana or kill them. The raiders attempt to kill Buck by setting a trap at his home. However, warned by his wife, Ruth (Ruby Dee), he escapes. While in flight he chances across Reverend Willis Oaks Rutherford, a shady individual masquerading as a preacher, and forces the Reverend to switch horses with him. Although the Preacher initially had a desire to get even with Buck, he changes his mind and decides to work with Buck after seeing the carnage the white raiders inflict on the African American travelers. Buck, Ruth and the Preacher do whatever it takes to get the wagon train west, including ambushing some of the raiders in a brothel, robbing a bank, and when necessary taking on the entire band of raiders going up against them.[3]


Production background

Buck and the Preacher was one of the first films directed by an African American and to be based on a band of African Americans fighting against the White majority. Poitier directed the film and it was produced by Belafonte Enterprises, Columbia Pictures Corporation, and E & R Productions Corp. The film was filmed in Durango, Mexico, as well as in Kenya. It was released in the United States in 1972.

Poitier wasn’t originally slated as the director of the film. Joseph Sargent, who was known for being a western director, left the project because of some disagreements he had with some of the cast. Even though this would be the first feature he directed, Poitier assumed the role of director.[4] It took Poitier 45 days to shoot the film, and he edited the film during the shooting of The Organization, in which he starred.[5]

In regards to how Poitier felt directing, he stated, “I rolled my camera for the first time. I tell you, after three or four takes of that first scene, a calm came over me. A confidence surged through my whole body… and I, as green as I was, had a touch for this new craft I had been courting from a distance for many, many years.”[6]


Civil rights

Civil rights themes can be seen throughout the film. Many allegorical parallels can be drawn between the film's plot and the main tenets of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.[7]

The violence of the marauders preventing the former slaves from settling their own land parallels the housing and property ownership issues of the 1960s. Additionally, the film comments on the systemic racism of the twentieth century by depicting a conversation between the leader of the marauders and a sheriff. Essentially, the point of the conversation is to illustrate that although there are laws in place to prevent racism and violence, the lack of enforcement of those laws makes them useless, in effect.[7] There is even one scene where it is implied an egalitarian white sheriff gets literally stabbed in the back by one of the racist "eastermen"! s The film also has themes shared by other Blaxploitation films in regards to its depiction of white people and how they interact with African Americans. Not only does the film depict most white people as being sadistic, there is a specific scene in which Preacher uses a racist stereotype to fool the night riders into a sense of comfort. He improvises an over-the-top sermon to get the white men to laugh and let their guards down, and as soon as they do, Buck enters and kills everyone at the table.[8] This usage of racist stereotypes by oppressed people can be seen in other Black Power films such as The Spook Who Sat by the Door.[9]


Following the Civil War, around 1879, African Americans in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee fled to Kansas seeking work and new lives away from the South. These migrants are known as “Exodusters.” [10] While there was work for them in the South and slavery had technically ended, the powerful white leaders of Southern states did all they could to prevent African Americans from owning land. These lawmakers also created sharecropping which, in effect, continued slavery. Also, the Exodusters had no interest in sharecropping or growing cotton or other cash crops for the white people who were once slave owners. The work they sought in Kansas was subsistence farming.[10]

With the independence of African Americans in the South came a violent reaction from Southern whites. The scarce law enforcement of rural areas mixed with Confederates’ bitterness about their loss of the Civil War (which was frequently blamed on African Americans) led to groups of former Confederate soldiers raiding settlements of former slaves trying to make their own way. These marauders would steal supplies, horses, food, and destroy anything they didn’t take. This violence only gave the Exodusters more reason to flee to Kansas.[10]


The film was screened October 30, 1971 at Loew's Theatre in Richmond, Virginia for the benefit of Virginia Union University in what was originally billed as its world premiere but later referred to as a preview by Poitier to avoid the film being reviewed.[11]


According to Poitier, the film was not an immediate success financially. The film was made on a budget of $2 million and Poitier claimed that it broke even at the box office. In fact, the poor financial reception resulted in Poitier losing a film deal with Columbia Pictures.[7]

Critics were somewhat split in their reviews. Gordon Gow, a critic for Films and Filming, said that the movie was “breezy stuff and highly entertaining.” He went on to say that Belafonte’s performance was humorous even though it was somewhat over-the-top for the overall historical realism that the film is going for.[4]

Other reviews were not so positive. Writers for Motion Picture Guide focused more on the negative stereotypes presented in the film. “Stereotypes abound in this foolish, witless western, a production misusing the fine black talent in its cast."[4]

The initial lackluster response from audiences may have been caused by how different Buck is than typical Blaxploitation heroes such as Shaft and Coffy who live in contemporary society. The old west setting may have been too far removed from the African American audiences viewing the film. Additionally, the fact that white heroes were typically the centerpieces of American westerns may have also contributed to the foreignness of the film to its target audience.[12]

In Philip Powers 2020 book "Sidney Poitier Black and White" he devoted a chapter to the making of Buck and the Preacher illustrating the fact that the film was far from the financial flop some have claimed, drawing millions of Americans to buy a ticket to see it in theatres. Powers also revealed the full range of reviews after it was released. While Poitier's "direction of Buck and the Preacher received mixed reviews... [it was] due to the fact that most film critics and reviewers in 1972 didn’t have a basic understanding of what a director does, from pre-production through to the end of post-production – and unfortunately it remains as true today as it was then – the comments about Poitier’s effort as a first-time director are interesting for their historical context more than their perspicacity."[13]

See also


  1. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 8, 1991). "Critic's Notebook; Black Films: Imitation Of Life?". New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2008.
  2. ^ Pareles, Jon (February 19, 1996). "Brownie McGhee, 80, Early Piedmont Bluesman". New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2008.
  3. ^ Buck and the Preacher, 1972, dir. Sidney Poitier
  4. ^ a b c Berry, Torriano; Berry, Venise T. (2001). The 50 Most Influential Black Films: A Celebration of African-American Talent, Determination, and Creativity (illustrated ed.). Citadel Press. p. 126. ISBN 0806521333.
  5. ^ Goudsouzian, Aram (January 20, 2011). Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (illustrated ed.). Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. p. 339. ISBN 9780807875841.
  6. ^ Raymond, Emilie (June 8, 2015). Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press. p. 208. ISBN 978-0295806075.
  7. ^ a b c Corson, Keith (March 22, 2016). African American Directors after Blaxploitation, 1977-1986 (illustrated ed.). University of Texas Press. ISBN 9781477309087.
  8. ^ Johnson, Michael K. (January 8, 2014). Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781628469073.
  9. ^ Reich, Elizabeth (Fall 2012). "A New Kind of Black Soldier: Performing Revolution in The Spook Who Sat by the Door". African American Review. 45 (3): 325–339. doi:10.1353/afa.2012.0049. S2CID 153049798.
  10. ^ a b c Painter, Nell Irvin (1992). Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction (illustrated, reprint ed.). New York City, New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393009514.
  11. ^ Kass, Carole (November 3, 1971). "Poitier's Columbia 'Preacher' Film Shown Publicly At Richmond Benefit But Off-Limits For Film Reviewers". Variety. p. 20.
  12. ^ Donalson, Melvin (January 1, 2010). Black Directors in Hollywood. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292782242.
  13. ^ Powers, Philip (December 27, 2020). Sidney Poitier Black and White: Sidney Poitier's Emergence in the 1960s as a Black Icon. Sydney, Australia: 1M1 Digital. p. 316. ISBN 9798567638712.

External links

This page was last edited on 22 October 2021, at 20:08
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