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Photo: ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’
A spectacle of an ever-evolving city, ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ is a breathtaking film that captures the beauty of authenticity. Written by the director, Joe Talbot, and one of the main actors, Jimmie Fails, the story felt incredibly personal as it was written about an experience Fails has gone through. Coming out in 2019, the movie was released alongside popular A24 films such as ‘The Lighthouse’, ‘The Farewell’, ‘Uncut Gems’, and ‘Midsommar’. As 2019 was a great year for A24, ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ was the unsung hero amongst the other releases that depicted absolutely beautiful filmmaking and storytelling. With the vital themes of separation, culture, and family, ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ is a movie all should see.
A Tale About the Changing San Francisco
With beautiful cinematography by Adam Newport-Berra and a powerful score Emile Mosseri, ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ follows the main character, Jimmie Fails (played by Jimmie Fails himself), and his attempt at reclaiming his grandfather’s Victorian home at the heart of the changing San Francisco. Based on a true story, Jimmie is a third-generation native San Franciscan who deals with the constant circumstances in this changing city. He is joined by his friend, Montgomery “Mont” Allen (played by Jonathan Majors), who is an aspiring playwright and lives with his grandfather (played by Danny Glover). Together, Jimmie and Mont journey through the steep hills of the city and attempt to claim Jimmie’s house once again.
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‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’
The problem they come across is the fact Jimmie’s father lost the house years ago. The neighborhood and the house were gentrified by the city and no longer retain the culture of immigrant history that it once was. The price of the house skyrocketed which now costs millions and a White couple now resides in the home. Despite the circumstances, Jimmie, with the help of Mont, tries to find belonging within the city they once knew. Alongside Jimmie, the story explores how his family and the community he grew up with are priced out of the city as his mother has moved out to Los Angeles and his aunt was pushed to move into the suburbs.
Throughout the movie, Jimmie tries to reconnect with a community and struggles in trying to find a place in this constantly evolving city. As he is so focused on trying to claim the house as his own, his hopes in trying to get the house blinds him from reality and disconnects him from his family and friends. The storytelling on the surface level is simple, but paired with the film’s direction and effective acting, its recognition of gentrification makes this a powerful film. This was a raw story and the fact Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot were childhood best friends who grew up in San Francisco helped a lot in emphasizing authenticity within the film.
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A Story That Raises Issues of Gentrification
The film consists of the ideas of belonging as Jimmie and Mont are drawn together to try and find a place in this town they once knew. ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ may be a personal story for Jimmie but it also recognizes real issues that are currently happening within small and big cities such as San Francisco. San Francisco has become one of the most, and is probably at the top, expensive cities in the US. The rise in housing and pricing, has forced Black residents and other people of color out of their homes who have lived there for generations. This is a constant theme that is shown throughout the film as Jimmie himself is trying to search for meaning in a city he once knew. The history of the Black community within the streets of San Francisco has slowly become erased as these issues of gentrification are pushing them out of their hometowns.
There are interesting touches as the movie starts out showcasing the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. Rather than depicting the Golden Gate like other San Francisco-based movies, Talbot brings to light one of the few parts of the city that has not been cultivated and gentrified by the notorious tech giants. With a surrealist take and dark undertones, the film has White people walking through Black neighborhoods with hazmat suits and dead fish washing up on the shore to illuminate the poisoned water. Despite such contrasting themes, Talbot manages to showcase Hunters Point with such beauty through Newport-Berra’s cinematography. The film raises very vital issues through a dreamlike lens. Though these are vital problems that are happening in front of our eyes, the film puts focus on beauty and the beauty of a community that is struggling to be there.
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An Ode to San Francisco
“You don’t get to hate it unless you love it,” says Jimmie to a pair of young White women who claim that the city “blows”. Although at its very core, the movie talks about a change that is leaving them behind, it is also a love letter to San Francisco. There are many moving aspects to criticize of a place that you grew up in, but there are still parts within yourself where the love and appreciation of a hometown remains. With Jimmie and Mont skating from the suburbs to downtown San Francisco, it shows all of the city’s quirks and the unique features that make it a beloved and oftentimes hated city. In its own way, Talbot creates a visually captivating film that showcases all of a place’s beauty and makes it the perfect ode to a hometown.
Why is it a must-watch? It’s beautiful. That’s all to it. Not only visually and musically (because the soundtrack alone deserves all the awards), but it is just a simply beautiful movie that raises very important issues while having captivating storytelling. In their own respective ways, all elements such as the cinematography, acting, and score were phenomenally done and portrayed. With such surrealism and dreamlike structure, ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ is an absolute must-watch.
Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, Danny Glover | Director: Joe Talbot | Writers: Jimmie Fails, Joe Talbot, Rob Richert | Music: Emile Mosseri | Cinematography: Adam Newport-Berra
By Anica Muñoz
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Anica Muñoz is a writer and an aspiring film producer with a passion for media and entertainment. She strongly considers storytelling to be a powerful tool that bridges the divide between communities. Anica enjoys films that showcase a diversity of voices and brings forth empowerment for a wide group of individuals. From her writing, she believes in creating a positive impact with her analysis and reviews of films by exploring the power of human connection within these stories. Her perspective towards consuming entertainment is driven by compassion which aligns itself with the mission of The Hollywood Insider. Anica hopes to share her enthusiasm and love for cinema with others through her work.