Rambling Reviewer, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”

Directed by Joe Talbot, 2009

One immediately enters the challenging world of young black man Jimmie Fails in this powerful movie. Jimmie (played by himself) and his friend Montgomery “Mont” Allen (Jonathan Majors) wait each morning for a bus for work, Jimmie is a nurse at a Senior Care facility, Mont works at a supermarket fish counter. Their morning wait is punctured by a soapbox preacher wailing about polluted waters and extortions to fight for their land and their home, “the final frontier of manifest destiny.” Indeed, the San Francisco they know is disappearing in front of their eyes. The Preacher’s words ring true to Jimmie, and he jumps on his skateboard with Mont and they go to Fillmore to visit the house he grew up in – an old Victorian style with a witch’s hat cupola. It’s now going to seed and looks abandoned. Mont’s ambition is to become a playwright. Jimmie now discovers his – to restore the old the house and to reclaim it from gentrification or destruction. He begins by painting the trim. From childhood he knew that his grandfather had built this house. But his first surprise is that a 60-something couple live in it. And she doesn’t want him on her property – restoring it or not. Jimmy lives with Mont and Mont’s Grandpa Allen (Danny Glover), the two friends sharing a cramped room. Coming and going the two always run into a group of four young black men that hang out in front of the house. The four always get into  a test of macho between two of their party and then between the group and the two friends, who speak but don’t engage .The next time Jimmy visits the house with Mont, a moving truck is in front full of furniture, and they’re told a death in the family has caused the couple to move out. When Jimmy talks to a real estate broker about the house, he’s told the house could be tied up in estate matters for years. After Jimmie and Mont visits his Aunt Wanda in the suburbs, Wanda says she stored all the old furniture from the house. Now Jimmy sees his plan coming true. And it all feels true when Jimmy and Mont move in and the house is filled with antique furniture and polished to high gleam. But the dreams of a young black man lacking resources weigh lightly on the scale of life. The narrative of this film weaves all of its elements into an emotional climax true to its core. As Jimmie says to a couple of young female bus riders bad-mouthing San Francisco, “you don’t get to hate it unless you love it.” The Last Black Man in San Francisco was written by Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails. The two grew up together in San Francisco and had wanted to make this movie since they were teenagers. Neither knew anything about filmmaking, but after sending an email to Barry Jenkins (director of Moonlight), they got some advice. They Subsequently filmed a preview to launch a Kickstarter campaign and managed to raise $75,000. From that they got a lot of publicity and a short film they took to the Sundance Film Festival. Brad Pitt’s Plan B picked up the production which began in 2018. It premiered at Sundance in 2019 where it won a Dramatic Directing Award for Joe Talbot as well as a Special Jury Award – Creator Collaboration. Jamal Trulove plays an important role as Kofi in the movie. He had been instantly chosen for the cast as one of the four homies based on his background. He had been falsely charged for the murder of his friend in 2007. In a 2015 retrial he was acquitted and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors determined that he had been framed by the police and was awarded a large settlement. The Los Angele Film Critics Association also gave Joe Talbot, Jimmie Fails, and Jonathan Majors the New Generation Award, 2019.
Christian Esquevin is a member of the Coronado Island Film Festival Board of Directors, an avid film aficionado, and the creator of the blog Silver Screen Modes which focuses on the fashions and films of classic Hollywood. He is also the author and researcher for a stunning tabletop book Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Labelon fashion designer and icon, Gilbert Adrian, the chief fashion designer for MGM studios from 1928 to 1941.




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