Amazon Prime’s ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ Will Change How You Look at Gentrification
*Warning: Spoilers ahead*
Poignant Black films that leave me awestruck have become my bread and butter. For instance, Steve McQueen's Mangrove, Regina King's One Night In Miami and Denzel Washington's unforgettable Fences all had a profound impact on me. But recently, I came across a compelling film that really struck a chord, one that brilliantly captures what it’s like to navigate an ever-changing city that no longer feels like home.
Allow me to introduce Joe Talbot's 2019 drama, The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Inspired by the real-life experiences of actor and San Francisco native, Jimmie Fails, the movie follows Jimmie (Jimmie Fails), a young nurse who can’t seem to let go of his childhood home, which was built by his grandfather. While living in his best friend, Montgomery’s (Jonathan Majors) cramped home in Bayview-Hunters Point, Jimmie revisits the old house on multiple occasions and tries to do some upkeep on the building, against the new tenants’ wishes. However, when they’re eventually forced to move out, Jimmie jumps at the opportunity to reclaim his home.
Guys, I got chills from the moment I turned on this movie. From the slow buildup of the musical score to the stunning sights of San Francisco, I could go on for days about the film’s gorgeous scenery. In fact, I was so immersed that I felt like I was actually in San Francisco. But aside from its captivating cinematography, The Last Black Man in San Francisco wound up moving me so deeply that I nearly cried. Not only is it raw and honest, but it also speaks to a very serious issue that continues to affect low-income communities—and not just in this particular city.
With such a powerful message and strong performances, this movie definitely deserves more recognition. Here’s why it’s a must-watch.
1. It brilliantly captures how gentrification leads to feelings of loss and grief
Part of what makes this film so memorable is its portrayal of loss. In Jimmie’s case, he’s not just dealing with the loss of a house; there’s also the loss of identity, family and, even worse, his entire city. After being pushed out of a home that he and his family can no longer afford, he loses the stability, comfort and community that came with it. While his family parts ways and starts their new lives elsewhere, San Francisco sees an influx of construction sites, new cafes and new residents who aren’t aware of the neighborhood’s culture or history. But of course, this gentrification doesn’t stop Jimmie from fighting to preserve the city's history.
He gets an opportunity to do just that when his old home becomes vacant. After decorating with his old furniture he finally feels like he belongs. However, it’s only a matter of time before reality kicks in, reminding him that he has no ownership of the beloved property. Still, Jimmie feels entitled to this home and he fights for it—even if that means getting himself into a mountain of debt.
Jimmie’s experience is one that will hit home for many in San Francisco, a locale that’s one of the most gentrified cities in the country. But I imagine his story will also resonate with those who’ve never been to SF. For instance, I currently live in a gentrifying neighborhood in New York, and I completely understand that feeling of displacement. I know what it feels like to long for the way things used to be. And it’s especially disheartening when things change at break-neck speed, erasing so much of what made the community unique (and feel like home to me) in the first place. That sense of loss can get pretty overwhelming.
2. It also highlights how gentrification disproportionately affects people of color
Just to offer some background, research has shown a downward trend in San Francisco’s black population (13 percent identified as black in 1970, while only 5 percent identified as black in 2019). This theme is reflected in the film, which is evident when we see the lack of diversity in Jimmie’s old neighborhood.
Also, in 2020, Stanford sociologist Jackelyn Hwang proved that gentrification disproportionately affects minority groups. While discussing his study, which focused on Philadelphia, he said, “As neighborhoods gentrify, when poor people can no longer remain in their neighborhoods and move, there are fewer affordable neighborhoods. Our findings suggest that, for the Black community, there are additional constraints when they move, leading them to move to a shrinking set of affordable yet disadvantaged neighborhoods within the city.”
3. It addresses the question of what it really means to be “home.”
Remember the wise words of Luther Vandross, who famously sang “a house is not a home”? Well, he was definitely onto something, and I get the feeling Jimmie would agree. In the film, he spends a lot of time and energy trying to reclaim the physical structure of his family home. However, it’s pretty clear that he’s even more drawn to the memories attached to this house and what it represents. In reality, it’s a chance to keep a part of the old San Francisco that made it so great and, even better, an opportunity to educate newcomers. It’s no wonder Jimmie has such deep emotional ties to that house.
4. It's a beautiful portrait of male vulnerability
One thing that really struck me about this film was its amazing treatment of male friendships. Jimmie and Mont’s relationship isn’t romantic at all, and yet, their connection feels sincere, mostly due to their shared vulnerability. For instance, in one memorable scene, Jimmie reunites with Mont at the dock after a huge revelation causes a rift between them. But they don’t allow that tension to escalate. Instead, they apologize and they hug—with zero awkwardness.
This incredible brotherly bond aside, I was especially intrigued by Jimmie’s childhood friend, Kofi (Jamal Trulove), who clearly struggles with toxic masculinity. Behind closed doors, he’s friendly, open and authentic. But when he’s out with his friends, he does a complete 180, going as far as to insult his childhood friend. It’s such an accurate reflection of what countless Black men still experience, but more importantly, it highlights how these negative ideals can take a huge toll on their mental and emotional health.
PUREWOW RATING: 4.5 STARS
From breathtaking visuals to spot-on social commentary, this poignant film is definitely worth your time.
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