‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ Is A Lament For A Once Flourishing Community

Jimmie Fails stars as himself in "The Last Black Man In San Francisco."
Jimmie Fails stars as himself in "The Last Black Man In San Francisco."
Credit Adam Newport-Berra / A24 via AP

Of all of the songs and stories about San Francisco, the Sundance Award winning film, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is as much an elegy as an ode.

In the early 20th century, San Francisco’s Filmore District was a vibrant community for middle-class African Americans. However, since the urban redevelopment in the 1950s and 60s, the African American population of San Francisco has fallen by nearly half. Where does one go when your home is San Francisco? That’s just one of the questions at the heart of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”

Director Joe Talbot and lead actor Jimmie Fails came by WABE studios to talk with “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes about their poetic and heartbreaking account of gentrification.

The childhood friends and native San Franciscans spent five years working on the film, which was funded in large part by their Kickstarter campaign. The movie is based on Fails’ story of his family’s former San Francisco home to which he longed to return.

Writer Jimmie Fails, left, and director Joe Talbot pose for a portrait to promote the film “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.” (Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

“When you grow up in San Francisco, you’re aware of the music scene that came out of there in the 60’s–like Jefferson Airplane and Janice Joplin.  The films that came out of San Francisco, like Noir films, but you’re not taught about the “Harlem of the West,” Talbot said about the robust African-American community that once thrived there in the mid-20 century.

“It was kind of important for us to make this movie because there are waves of people coming to San Francisco now who don’t know very much about the battles that were fought to create San Francisco values; that was not only a place for artists, but for also people who felt like they couldn’t fit in.”

“The Last Black Man In San Francisco” opens this weekend at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema.

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