On the surface, The Last Black Man in San Francisco sounds like the obituary of a once-hopeful pioneer crushed by gentrification.
Delve deeper and discover a glorious film centered around a displaced young man, Jimmie Fails, whose only happiness is found when he and his friend Mont (played brilliantly by Jonathan Majors) begin squatting in Jimmie’s grandfather’s abandoned Victorian home—with a witches hat—in San Francisco’s tiny Fillmore district.
The Last Black Man, which had its New York premiere on Tuesday and opens in theaters today, is equal parts fact and fable. Playing himself, Bay Area resident Jimmie Fails drew on real-life events to evoke the film’s most poignant moments, including a scene on a city bus where he casually bumps into his mother, who he hasn’t seen in some time.
“That did happen years ago,” said Fails, who’s real life mom makes a cameo in the film. “I was raised by my dad and I met her when I was 12. We’ve been good since then.”
What rings most true throughout is the film’s hauntingly exquisite portrayal of Black male relationships. Between Jimmie and Mont, their bond seems like a solace from the corner boys taunting them daily for riding skateboards, wearing thrift store suits and sprouting poetry. However, their connection is shelter for them as they grapple with letting go of dreams unfilled. This is the beauty of the film.
“We thought why not explore Black men being vulnerable with each other instead of being hard all the time,” Fails said. “We were just kind of over seeing Black men portrayed like that.”