How Accurate Is Nope's History Of The Horse In Motion?

After the staggering success of "Get Out" and a strong follow-up with "Us," writer/director Jordan Peele is hoping to continue his winning streak with "Nope." The first teaser for Peele's upcoming sci-fi thriller introduced us to a family of Hollywood horse trainers whose legacy goes all the way back to the first motion picture of a galloping horse. 

For the most part, the initial teaser kept things minimalistic, but things still get weird when the family begins experiencing inexplicable power outages, huge looming shadows, and UFO sightings on their ranch. The film's premise has seemingly been slowly revealed in subsequent trailers, and it appears that little gray men may be the source of the spookiness on the ranch.

While alien spaceships and extraterrestrials aren't real (as far as we know, anyway), Peele did sneak in a bit of true film history in that trailer. Turns out the first motion picture was indeed assembled from photographs of a Black man riding a horse — but it's not the one shown in the "Nope" trailer.

Wanna bet?

According to The International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, Eadweard Muybridge was an English photographer who became famous for his landscape photos of the Yosemite Valley in 1867. That may not seem particularly impressive now, but trekking across dangerous and unsettled land was kind of a big deal back then, and people were mesmerized by his photographs. For years, Muybridge explored landscapes others could only dream of, and captured Alaska, the Pacific Railroads, and coastal lighthouses along his journeys. This photography experience would evolve and cement his place in film history.

Meanwhile, California governor Leland Stanford, railroad tycoon and founder of Stanford University, was a man with a curious mind and trainloads of money. In the late 1800s, the mechanics of animal movements were still largely a mystery, and apparently a hot topic among the rich. Reportedly, Stanford bet a friend $25,000 that all four of a horse's hooves leave the ground as the animal gallops, and he hired famed photographer Muybridge to prove it. (Man, the things people had to do before Google.)

On July 19, 1878, Muybridge set up 12 cameras around Sallie Gardner, one of Stanford's horses, and took a series of photographs of a Black man riding a galloping horse. The series of photos proved Stanford's hypothesis correct, and paved the way for motion pictures.

Looking over the series of photographs, Muybridge realized he could recreate the horse's movements if he could find a way to assemble them. The following year, Muybridge developed the zoopraxiscope, which was able to project up to 200 images. With this invention, Muybridge created "Sallie Gardner at a Gallop," or, as it's more commonly known today, "The Horse in Motion," and became one of the world's first filmmakers.

The real horse and man in motion

While the "Nope" trailer is correct about the first film being a Black man on a horse, the teaser includes a different Muybridge assembly known as "Plate 626." After his first series with Sallie Gardner, the photographer created another with Annie G., another one of Stanford's horses. With months of practice, Muybridge had perfected the technique this time around, so "Plate 626" is of much better quality than the first series, which is probably why Peele chose to use it instead. Luckily, despite its crude quality, the original film has survived. However, the identity of the jockey isn't as readily available.

An internet sleuth suspects that a man named Gilbert Domm is the jockey in "The Horse in Motion," but the evidence behind this claim is pure speculation. According to their research, an 1878 article states that Domm worked as a stock manager on Stanford's farm near the end of 1878. Even if that's true, there's no proof Domm is the man riding the tycoon's horse. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely we'll ever know for sure.

The jockey in "Plate 626" is even more of a mystery because his identity is completely unknown.

In "Nope," Peele has created a legacy for the men who should be credited as among the first movie stars. The film's horse training family, the Haywoods, is supposed to be descended from the jockey in "The Horse in Motion," and the brother and sister played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer are the only Black family of Hollywood horse trainers. The real men's erasure from history is unlikely to be remedied in the real world, but Peele's latest film at least tries to give them the legacy they deserve. 

"Nope" hits theaters on July 22, 2022.