The real story behind the black jockey in Jordan Peele’s “No”

  • The movie “Nope” has a clip of a black jockey riding a galloping horse.
  • British photographer Eadweard Muybridge tries to capture horses and other animals in motion.
  • His photographs provide a glimpse into the success of black jockeys in the 19th and 20th centuries.

One of the early visuals in Jordan Peele’s “Nope” is a clip of a black jockey riding a galloping horse in a mesmerizing loop.

“Did you know that the first set of photos to make the movie was a two-second clip of a black man riding a horse?” Emerald Haywood, played by Keke Palmer, asks at the beginning of the film.

This clip consists of a series of photographs taken by Eadweard Muybridge, an English photographer who moved to America in the mid-1800s.

Like the characters in “Nope” trying to capture photos and videos of elusive alien presences, Muybridge set out to use 19th-century technology to capture nearly impossible footage: galloping horses.

According to historians, Muybridge’s photos not only help deepen our understanding of animal movement, but also give us a glimpse into the success of black people in the Jim Crow era.

“The world of sports and entertainment is one of the few worlds in which African-Americans can excel,” said John Otter, a professor of art history at James Madison University. “These photos demonstrate the opportunities and means they have to achieve a middle-class life.”

The Story Behind the Muybridge Photography Project

Beginning in 1873, former California governor and industrialist Leland Stanford first commissioned Muybridge to photograph one of his horses. The project was ultimately successful, capturing the horse at full speed.

The work that Muybridge and Stanford had started was interrupted in October 1874, when Muybridge discovered that his wife was having an affair with their friend. He tracked down the friend and shot him directly. Muybridge was arrested that night.

When he was tried for murder in February, Muybridge admitted to being insane after he suffered a serious head injury in a stagecoach accident, not just before his death. He was eventually acquitted of justifiable homicide. By 1877, Muybridge had resumed work at Stanford University.

In 1878, Muybridge caught more running horses on his farm in Stanford. The “Horse in Motion” series includes photos of a horse, Sallie Gardner, and a jockey, some historians Believe Probably a black rider.

The clips used in “Nope” are from a later project Muybridge collaborated with the University of Pennsylvania around 1883. He and Stanford fell out over credit issues. The university commissioned Muybridge to expand on his earlier project to study other forms of locomotion, from kangaroos and lions to humans doing somersaults and weightlifting.

Muybridge published his final outline in 1887, entitled “Animal Movement.” The collection includes photos of an unnamed black jockey riding a horse named Sally G.The only other person of color in the series is Ben Baileya mixed-race boxer.

The inclusion of black athletes is a double-edged sword, historians say

According to art historian and curator Philip Prodger, as an outsider from Britain, Muybridge was not deeply involved in American political and social struggles. But he said the inclusion of black athletes in Muybridge’s collection gave a glimpse into their place in the social environment of the time.

According to historians, sports were one of the few opportunities for black Americans to achieve a middle-class life. Most blacks at the time were laborers in other service jobs.

“Boxing and horse racing are two areas where they can make a name for themselves and mingle with white Americans,” Otter said.

Black jockeys in particular have had great success. In 1875, the first year of the Kentucky Derby, 13 of the 15 jockeys competing were black.fifteen of them first Black jockeys have won 28 derbies.

Black jockey James Winkfield races on horses.

Two-time Kentucky Derby winner James Winkfield travels across Europe after encountering racism in America.

Courtesy of Kentucky Derby Museum/Kinetic Corporation

But opportunity comes at a price. According to Otter, the success of black jockeys exposed them to the long-standing racist idea that African-Americans are animalistic and “less important.” He added that horse racing is also a sport of corporal punishment: jockeys must maintain their weight, and many turn to alcohol to curb hunger.

As jockeys, not considered a high-status job, became more respected as a profession, and as horse racing became more lucrative, Black Americans were increasingly excluded, Prodger said.

In 1905, the Washington Post published an article Titled “The Decline of Black Jockeys: The Superior Intellectual Replacement of White Jockeys,” the author argues that the decline of black jockeys is because the sport is no longer considered “despicable.”

“It goes both ways, but it’s ultimately a story of African-Americans taking advantage of the opportunities they can get and recognizing the importance of imagery — using it to showcase their accomplishments,” Otter said.

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