The Last Black Man in San Francisco is the title of a new film written by Joe Talbot and Rob Richert. The film stars Jimmie Fails (Jimmie) and Jonathan Major (Mont), and is also inspired by Fails’ life.
The film follows Jimmie and his best friend Mont as they try to reclaim the house built by Jimmie’s grandfather. The dramatic tale fits right in with today’s adulting problems and does a great job of bringing awareness to various issues without being preachy.
The sentence, ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ should be laughable due to the absurdity, yet there are moments in the film where the line of fiction and reality are blurred. As of January 2018, California had an estimated 129,972 people experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Without explicitly saying it, ‘ the rent is too damn high’ is one of the nemeses in this San Francisco story, yet the film was able to depict the crisis without depicting any character as evil.
When not tackling the topic of gentrification the film also addresses the idea of what is a man, what is black, what is a black man? As Jimmie travels through his Fillmore district he has to pass by a group of court jesters who represent the neighborhood guys. In real life, similar to the film, kids from the neighborhood grow up to be adults hanging on the corner.
They entertain each other by siggin’ (clowning) on each other’s appearance. In an attempt to appear tough and exude masculinity they call each other the N-word, over shout one another, and threaten to beat each other up. Real street dudes, the opposite of Jimmie and Mont. A poignant scene that showcases real manhood, is when Jimmie comes close to a #whileblack moment.
Realizing he is a black man, now in their neighborhood, Jimmie introduces himself to his neighbor with a bright smile and handshake, affirming that he is going to be the best neighbor. As Jimmie returns to his side of the street to mind his own business, the old white man is shooked thinking “what was that?” Jimmie’s mannerisms don’t fit the stereotypical images the media normally portrays, and that the old man was expecting. In contrast, the street dudes talk loud and vulgar, but time will show they are actually weak. At the end of the day, those guys are not respected by anybody and are disposable.
Research from the CDC reports Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide. In addition, the homicide rate for Black Americans in all 50 states is on average 8 times higher than that of whites (2017). Similar to real life, the fake persona that the street dudes carry, ultimately lead to their demise.
Whereas Jimmie was portrayed as a man, not a boy, or the N-word, and if nothing else he earned his respect. It would be refreshing if musical artist and video directors took a page from this script and redefined what a black man in America is, it might just save a life.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is playing in selected theaters.