The Sundance-winning film The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a visually stimulating and timeless film for our generation and many to come. Loosely based on film co-writer Jimmie Fails’ life, TLBMSF beautifully tackles issues of gentrification, San Franciscan culture and self-identity.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco follows Jimmie Fails and his love story with a beautiful, Victorian-style house built by his grandfather, the so-called first black man in San Francisco. As a result of poor choices by Fails’scheming father (Rob Morgan), the family lost the property, sparking Fails’ journey to reclaim his childhood home.
Fails is accompanied by his best friend, Montgomery Allen (Johnathon Majors), affectionately known as “Mont,” an aspiring playwright. After being displaced from a group home, Jimmie moves in with Mont and Mont’s Grandfather (Danny Glover).
Fueled by his obsession with his childhood home, Fails returns to the abandoned San Francisco house to take care of it. This struggle between Jimmie and his desire to reclaim the house inspires Mont to write his play on the ever-changing city of San Francisco that has pushed black people out as a causality of gentrification.
When the San Francisco house suddenly becomes vacant, Jimmie sees an opportunity and secretly moves in with Mont. Once moved in, we see Jimmie’s pure satisfaction to be back in his childhood home. That satisfaction quickly diminishes when Jimmie is continuously denied home ownership by realtors.
Due to the height of gentrification in major cities, this film could not have come at a better time. As major cities continue to grow, the inhabiting black communities have witnessed and experienced the shift and consequences of increased property values in our cultivated communities. This is depicted perfectly in the opening scene of a young black girl on the way to school as she crosses paths with a white man in a hazmat suit cleaning the toxic water and city streets.
The cinematography by Adam Newport-Berra is just one of the many elements that make this film stand out. Scored by Emile Mosseri, the music placement evoked a new layer of emotion throughout the development of the film.
“Without the music, the film would not have been what it was,” says Joe Talbot during the Atlanta premiere. “We wanted to use musicians, that [previously] may have been celebrated but now can barely afford San Francisco.”
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a must watch for its richness in its use of colors, it’s orchestral tone in music, and its introduction of a love story between a home and a man. The film’s ability to possess its drama documentary status further confirms its elements of realism. It’s a mirrored representation of the socioeconomic reality for many people living in major cities.
Written By: Deanna Griffin and Dominique Viard