To the naked eye, The Last Black Man In San Francisco’s title may read a bit vague.
The film, by newcomer Joe Talbot, explores the friendship of Jimmie Fails (Jimmie Fails) and Montgomery Allen (Jonathan Majors) as they attempt to overcome the personal and structural obstacles against them as black men in an increasingly gentrified San Francisco. By exhibiting their complexity as caregivers and artists, the highly-acclaimed film shows that black men can find home and resolution through the love and truth that they share with each other.
But let's give some background context.
Inspired by the real-life friendship of Joe and lead actor, Jimmie — who both grew up in San Francisco and often walked through the city together as teenagers — the film shows how gentrification has changed the northern California city but also challenges black manhood when societal roles aren't fulfilled.
Both artists and caregivers in their own right, Jimmie and Montgomery are each other’s support systems. Jimmie uses his skills as a carpenter to repair his family’s old home, encourages Montgomery’s writing, and works as an assistant in a retirement home. Montgomery, an aspiring playwright, observes a group of black friends in the neighborhood, sketches the characters and buildings around him — while his day-to-day is working at a fish market and caring for his nearly blind grandfather.
"I thought it was fresh, a story about marginalized people within a marginalized culture and community," Jonathan Majors, the actor that portrays Montgomery says in a statement. "Jimmie and Mont are not running around doing things young black men like them typically do."
Abandoned emotionally by his father and physically by his mother, Jimmie spends most of the film in the lure of his family’s beautiful, Victorian home in a newly gentrified Fillmore District, instead of fixating on how to be his most authentic self.
The beauty of the film is that beyond gentrification — a hot button issue in the Bay area — it explores how identity is often intimately tied to home or a geographical location. Beautifully lit and slow moving, The Last Man in San Francisco implores viewers to feel how it is to slowly lose everything that’s woven into the fabric of a man.
In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin somewhat describes this dilemma. “Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have,” Balwin writes.
It is friendship and confronting the consequences of how restrictive black masculinity can be that ultimately liberates Jimmie. When a friend is shot and killed, Jimmie tells Montgomery, “I feel that could have been me if not for this house,” clinging on to the old home as a sense of divine privilege that separates him from his peers.
All the young black men in the film recognize how performing masculinity works as a shield against hurt, but in a twist of fate, also experience the freedom in giving into vulnerability.
“This movie, outside of being about gentrification, that shows black men in a vulnerable sense, but not in the back of a police car,” stated Tichina Arnold, who portrayed Wanda Fails in the film, during a KTLA 5 interview, “I usually say [that] black men are everything because they have so many facets to them that we don’t normally get to see because of the media.”
In the canon of recent films like Moonlight, Native Son, and even Blindspotting by fellow Oakland filmmaker Daveed Diggs, The Last Man in San Francisco stands firm in progressing the narrative around black men in an unforgiving world.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue