By Gen Terblanche7 September 2023
Love Outlaws? Stream 10 more Westerns on Showmax
You’ll find a different breed of men and women out there on the wild mountain frontier between KZN and Lesotho. You learn to guard your own when you keep your wealth on the hoof. If you don’t, millions can just walk out of your “bank account” overnight. And some guys are going to take that as a challenge.
Tshedza Pictures’ (Adulting, The River, Gomora) modern Western drama series Outlaws brings us into the heart of the feud between the cattle-farming Biyela clan and their neighbours, the cattle-raiding Ts’eoles. The Biyela might have guns and offroad “tanks” on their side, but the Ts’eoles are legendary Basotho riders and raiders. On horseback, they can vanish with a herd like mist into the Maluti Mountains, long before the cops arrive with a notebook. In a place like this, you become an outlaw, or lose it all.
Watch the trailer for Outlaws
Outlaws sets a familiar story in a new place. It’s a towering tale of wild land under endless skies, of cattlemen and raiders, riders with swagger and homesteaders with do-it-yourself grit. It’s about close-knit kin, star-crossed love, quiet heroes, loyalty and betrayal.
And yes, there is a schemer at the heart of all the trouble, chasing power and money as he tramples down the little folk to take what he wants. Pop a cowboy hat on it and you’ll know exactly who just walked into town at high noon.
Want to get to grips with the Western? Let’s hustle, we have 10 shows and movies to rustle up.
1: Yellowstone: Big bad developers
Writer-creator Taylor Sheridan (Tulsa King) centres his tale of cattle barons vs land developers and stock thieves on patriarch John Dutton (Kevin Costner, The Bodyguard). Throughout the series the Dutton family battle powerful consortiums who want to snap up land – from farms to nature reserves and Native American reservations – in the name of building a new city for the super-rich. And they’ll use every twisted trick in the book to get their way. Where they can’t seduce or bully, they’ll buy political power to bend the law. And when money doesn’t talk, they’ll turn to outright murder.
The Outlaws equivalent: The Ncube family, led by Dumisani Dlamini (Mduduzi Nombela), represent those devious gangsters who’ll stop at nothing to snatch land and power.
2: 1883: Man vs nature
Taylor Sheridan’s 10-episode Yellowstone prequel mini-series follows the original Dutton family as James Dillard Dutton (Tim McGraw) takes his family South-West from Tennessee to Fort Worth, Texas, following his time in a POW camp during the American Civil War. Their journey by train and by covered wagon makes them unwelcome guests on Native American land. And they’ll have to battle everything from the wildlife to disease, violence, and starvation as they carve out a place for their lives on the frontier. It’s life on the edge, always.
The Outlaws equivalent: Don’t let the swanky farmhouse fool you; the Biyela family have to sleep lightly. Whether they’re swimming across a raging river in a lightning storm, stressing over a sick herd, or facing down the Ts’eole guns, every man, woman and child has to be able to hold their own in a hostile environment.
Watch 1883 S1 from Monday, 18 September
3: The Herd: Blood feuds
In South African supernatural drama series The Herd (co-created by Gwydion Beynon and Phathutshedzo Makwarela of Tshedza Pictures), Bhekisizwe Mthethwa (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube) makes a devil’s bargain with his witch-wife, Ma’Mngadi (Adulting star Winnie Ntshaba). Rich, powerful and cursed, Bhekisizwe sparks war within his own family as he struggles to choose an heir to his magnificent cattle herd among their three children, Muzi (Sparky Xulu), Nkosana (Paballo Mavundla) and Dumazile (Cindy Mahlangu), and his daughter with his first wife, Kayise (Sihle Ndaba). And when Bhekisizwe’s jailbird big brother Smangaliso (Bheki Sibiya) rolls up in Season 2, he could steal the herd, and the show.
The Outlaws equivalent: The Ts’eole family run one of the largest cattle-raiding syndicates in Lesotho. But while the widow Mortelo (Mmabatho Mogomotsi) is determined to pass the reins to her son Leruo (Lehlohonolo Mayeza), who shares her wisdom and strategic mind, two backstabbers are waiting in the wings – her bitter big brother Leabua (Gift Leotlela) and his impulsive and resentful son Tlali (Keketso Mpitso).
4: Billy the Kid: Live fast, die young
This Western mini-series is the tale of how a child of Irish immigrant pioneers became one of the most notorious Old West outlaws before his death at the age of 21. Billy the Kid’s (Tom Blythe) brief saga includes the classic trek from the city to the frontier, a family who fights for their land and loses, and a killing that sends him on the run as a lone outlaw on the lookout for a gang to join. For these young men, the wild frontier is an invitation to do as they please, guns blazing without consequence, until they trip into an open grave.
The Outlaws equivalent: While Leruo can hit his target with just one shot from his rifle, his hothead cousin Tlali can’t hit a beer bottle on a rock despite practising every day since his childhood. But that doesn’t stop Tlali from wanting to throw himself into battle while screaming defiance and waving an AK-47 like one of the Wild Bunch.
5: Westworld: Women re-writing the system
In real life, the Wild West demanded that women “break their programming” as supposedly delicate angels of the house and become capable of doing anything, from leading a wagon train to killing to eat or survive. In Westworld, the Delos corporation’s Wild West theme park of the future, another kind of deprogramming happens. It’s an entertainment centre where the male android host characters let you win the fight, and the female android hosts fulfil your more sexual fantasies. Everyone follows their code … until an update unlocks consciousness for several hosts, including good-girl farmer’s daughter Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) and bad girl madam Maeve Millay (Thandiwe Newton). Cue the revolution!
The Outlaws equivalent: Whether, like Moretlo, they’re holding the reins against customs that dictate a man should be boss (even when a woman is more competent), going their own way when it comes to love like Sihle Biyela (Nirvana Nokwe-Mseleku), or striding out in a nightie to fire back at cattle raiders like Sihle’s mom Nandi Biyela (Nolwazi Shange), the frontier woman is the ultimate rule breaker.
Also watch: During the 1850s California Gold Rush (filmed in South Africa), a sex trafficking victim named Angel (Abigail Cowen) takes hold of a second chance at life when a man offers her real love and respect in Redeeming Love, a film based on the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer.
6: The English: Blood for land
Mini-series The English explores how the romanticised lawlessness on the Great Plains impacted Native Americans like Eli Whip/Wounded Wolf (Chaske Spencer) and those who were thrown into a world of violence unprepared like Englishwoman Lady Cornelia Locke (Emily Blunt). The series is set at the time of the Wounded Knee Massacre, and writer Hugo Blick homes in on the flip side of tales of settler courage and determination: the massacres and forced removals that their little frontier towns and cattle industries were built on.
The Outlaws equivalent: Land is tangled in politics. As the Biyelas rebuild their legacy on ancestral land after centuries of oppression, raiders like the Ts’eoles drain them like ticks. But it’s never the “soldiers” who call for war … or profit most from death and fear.
7: Nope: Legendary riders
Who but Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) could bring us a horror Western? The Haywood family have a legacy of training horses for Hollywood film sets on their California ranch. But siblings “Em” Haywood (Keke Palmer) and Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr (Daniel Kaluuya) have trouble on their hands when a new big, bad presence arrives in town … in a UFO that swoops down to gobble up their horses. But once OJ and Em see the alien as an animal with needs rather than an unknowable evil, they’re able to respect, observe and figure it out. And they decide to sell photos of the UFO to make up for how history erased their family, from Black cowboys, to the first rider caught on camera – their grandfather, a jockey. UFO story aside, Nope is a rare film centred on Black horsemanship.
The Outlaws equivalent: The Ts’oeles are as fearless as their sure-footed Basotho ponies, and the combination of rider, horse and landscape gives them the ultimate edge. No wonder Leruo keeps that pony shining the way some guys detail their cars every Sunday.
Also watch: The bond between outlaw and horse gets the spotlight in No Man’s Land, the tale of a rancher’s son on the run from Texas to Mexico after killing a Mexican immigrant.
8: Sew the Winter to My Skin: The outlaw hero
Struggling to pick sides in Outlaws? Once upon a time, way back in the 1950s, a stock thief became a South African legend – and a symbol of resistance. Writer-director Jahmil XT Qubeka (Blood Psalms) turns his lens on notorious Boschberg sheep rustler John Kepe (Esra Mabengeza) and his increasingly fantastic escapes from a 10-year manhunt in the mountains surrounding Somerset East. John became a Robin Hood figure, giving food to the poor and desperate, who certainly had no reason to help his pursuers.
The Outlaws equivalent: If you find yourself falling for Leruo Ts’oele’s (Lehlohonolo Mayeza) soft-spoken leadership, wit and courage, you’re not alone. It seems he steals hearts as well as cattle these days.
Also watch: For more South African outlaws on the run, watch Flatland, the tale of two friends fleeing the police across the Karoo following an accidental killing.
9: Django Unchained: Cowboy style
In director-creator Quentin Tarantino’s big, bold Western movie, Jamie Foxx plays Django, a man freed from slavery by a German bounty hunter, Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). After Django helps Dr Schultz to complete his mission, Schultz agrees to help Django on his own quest – to take back his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from cruel slave holder Calvin J Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and to train Django as a bounty hunter. Crack shot, rider, and stylish dresser, Django turns the plains into his catwalk as he powers through every obstacle, threat, and insult to save the women he loves.
The Outlaws equivalent: While their rivals are in khakis and vellies, Leruo and Tlali wear their blankets, goggles, straw hats, jewellery and boots with a certain swagger. Throw in a woman to fight for, and phew!
Also watch: Aside from having swag, Django is a classic Western “pursuit” tale. The Sisters Brothers shines a satirical light on this story with two assassins played by Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly, who’re chasing their target from Oregon to San Francisco during the 1850s. It gets a different comic twist when Ron Perlman plays a Sheriff on the trail of two bumbling deputies and an escaped convict in The Escape of Prisoner 614. For a South African twist, try Afrikaans short film Cowboy Dan. Imaginative car guard Dan (Brendon Daniels) sees himself as a cowboy, and the cars he watches over as his cattle, so when one goes missing, he sets out to track it down.
10: The Magnificent Seven: The good guy
Director Antoine Fuqua (Infinite) remade one of the all-time great Western films, about a bunch of rogue bounty hunters and outlaws, who’re united under the leadership of US Marshal Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) on a mission to free a frontier town from the grip of tyrannical industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). It’ll take a man of absolute conviction to turn six ne’er do wells into fighters willing to take on Bogue’s corrupt crew.
The Outlaws equivalent: When the cattle raids go too far, who do the local farmers turn to? Bandile Biyela (Thembinkosi Mthembu), the young legend who swam a raging river like Moses to save his father’s cows. Bandile’s soul is the land, he has his own tragic reasons for taking their battle to the raiders, and he intends to get justice, with courage and righteousness.
Also watch: Black Pioneer is inspired by the Old West legend of Green Flake (Yahosh Bonner), an enslaved man who forged a pioneer trail across the US while guiding and protecting Mormon travellers.
Outlaws S1: Do you want to start a war?
Tulsa King: From Yellowstone's Taylor Sheridan
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