The Last Black Man in San Francisco tells the story of a young (obviously) black man named Jimmie Fails who attempts to move back into the home his grandfather built in San Francisco. In completing the task of obtaining the house, Jimmie seeks out the help of his odd socially unaware friend Montgomery. Jimmie, a care worker, lives with his friend Montgomery and Montgomery’s blind grandfather. However, Jimmie returns to the big white house with red and gold trim constantly touching up the paint, watering the plants, and telling the owner they need to take better care of ‘his’ house. The house, which Jimmie calls his family home is inhabited by a white middle class family who we, as the viewers, learn little to nothing about. However, after the matriarch dies, the family leaves the property and the house is left completely empty, open for Jimmie and Montgomery to illegally move in. The film deals with the tough topics of gentrification, identity and black masculinity.
The cinematography alone will make you cry. I promise you. To this day it sticks in my head as one of the films that really made me reflect on the relationship with those I have in my life and the places I call home. Directed and written by the real Jimmie Fails (who plays himself in the film) it is clear that the film was not created for black women, but rather black men. In fact women, black or not, rarely given any screen time. That being said, I found there is so much that I have taken from it, and so much I have learnt about the black men in my life and their vulnerability.
The relationship between Montgomery and Jimmie is so beautiful and mesmerizing that you don’t know where to place it. One of the first scenes includes them riding a single skateboard together – pushing each other through the city. Throughout the film, they depend on each other. They don’t speak very deeply about their emotions – Montgomery is not even aware of the secrets Jimmie keeps until the end of the film. The first time I saw the film I wanted so badly to understand their relationship. I wanted so badly to know whether it was romantic or not. Was Montgomery secretly in love with Jimmie? Was Jimmie secretly closeted, and is this why he was so closed off? Many of the reviews I had read after seeing it for the first time pondered these same questions . However, the more I watch, the more those questions dissipate into nonexistence. I was centralizing the wrong parts of their relationship. I was so obsessed with this romanticized vision that I missed what was there: companionship (romantic or platonic) and the importance of it.
Love, as learnt through this film, can be fulfilled and found in every type of relationship. When we think of a love story, we often don’t center it around friendship… but it’s true! We love our friends and we find so much joy from it. Like a breath of fresh air, The Last Black Man in San Francisco brings a new understanding of the modern day love story to the table. For your next quarantine movie night, sit with your loved ones (whoever that may be) and watch this film.