By Paolo Pagcanlungan
“That is it’s own [oddly] radical act,” Joe Talbot – Director, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, explains when reflecting on the effect his movie has acclaimed by gathering people in a movie theatre to “be present”.
With the movie finally having released (in Canada) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, its important and relatable message can now be shared with moviegoers and people alike who are curious about what Joe and lead actor, Jimmie Fails, have to say about their hometown. Both make it clear what their debut movie is and is not.
The movie is not about anger. “That’s not really representative of the values we were taught as San Franciscans,” Jimmie explains when asked about how the effect of gentrification is portrayed in the film. Jimmie, who plays himself in his acting debut, actually experienced eviction, but understands that, “it wasn’t only about losing a house.” In fact, Jimmie pours his San Franciscan heart into his character who, in the final scenes of the movie, lets go of the bond that ties him to the house (and consequently to San Francisco) and reveals to a woman, “This life ain’t me.” A layered dynamic is created in the love that Jimmie has for his hometown, which is why there is passion behind the character’s claim that, “you don’t get to hate this city if you don’t love it.” The movie, however, is more than just an outcry.
The movie is about music. As Joe says: “Music is the only thing I think that I love, on a more visceral level, than movies.” With an eclectic musical upbringing that ranges from growing up to movie soundtracks by Danny Elfman, Michael Nyman and the like, to making beats for local rappers, Joe’s experience with music has helped shaped the film as we know it.
He recruited San Quinn – a San Franciscan rapper who Joe met in the halls of high school – who is found in the candy house scene. He once recorded Michael Marshall in his childhood-bedroom-turned-recording-studio, who now sings the movie’s anthem, San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers In Your Hair). Ultimately, the music becomes a tailor-made fit for the film, appropriately dressing the cinematography with flavours that display how much care has been put into this piece of art.
© Youtube | Lakeshore Records
The movie “goes beyond just the last Black man,” Jimmie points out when asked about the importance of the role, which breaks so many male stereotypes in filmmaking being carried out by an African Americans. Not only does the movie allow two male characters to be relieved of the pressure of achieving a masculine status quo, but it also is completely void of succumbing to the over-saturated idea that ‘sex’ MUST be a selling point for a film. The two best friends did feel it was essential for the role to be played by a Black actor, simply (and rightfully) because it was Jimmie’s story and the house was really built by his grandfather. Black ownership, in the face of gentrification, is one of many realities that is portrayed in the film, and is therefore one of many reasons why A24 FILMS states it has a “strong word-of-mouth” following.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a movie people are curious about for many different reasons. Whether it is because of the amount of heart poured out by the entire cast – from first-timer Jimmie Fails, to an agile display of talent by Jonathan Majors, to veteran (and fellow San Franciscan) Danny Glover. The music is another one of these reasons that beckons audiences to lend their ear to the story, or the pictures painted by this love letter of a movie led by a 5th generation San Franciscan about his best friend. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is as entertaining as it is timely.