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The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The Last Black Man in San Francisco Movie Poster Image
Painful portrait of gentrification in extraordinary indie.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 120 minutes

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Strong themes of perseverance, teamwork. Viewers gain empathy for people who don't have a lot of money yet live in a place that demands it. Iffy messages about masculinity (like when one man tells another he's behaving as if he's "soft") are upended by consequences that leave perpetrators feeling intense regret. Shows value of supportive, unshakeable friendship.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are real and humanized, from street preacher who rises at dawn to Grandpa Allen, who depends on his grandson to describe action on television that Allen can no longer see. Loveliest of all: Jimmie and Montgomery, two artistic, thoughtful, hardworking men who share a beautiful supportive friendship of the type rarely depicted on film (at least, for men): loving, long-lasting, fun, utterly unselfish. Members of marginalized community are lovable, fresh, relatable. 

Violence

Character shot offscreen in street standoff; viewers see others grieving his death, talking about their loss. Sound of distant gunfire. 

Sex

One instance of nonsexual nudity: A man walks fully nude up to a bus stop, spreads out a towel, sits down to chat with Jimmie. Viewers see him nude from front and back. 

Language

Infrequent swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "motherf----r," and "hell," as well as many uses of the "N" word -- sometimes as term of endearment, sometimes hostile. 

Consumerism

Jimmie's issues are largely financial, but it's clear that his wish to own his old house isn't driven by greed; instead, the house symbolizes a better life he could have, with security for his loved ones and himself. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Jimmie and other characters smoke; characters are occasionally shown drinking beer. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Last Black Man in San Francisco is an extraordinary indie drama about a man who launches a plan to reclaim the family house he had to leave as a child. While there's not too much eyebrow-raising content, the film is slow-moving, and its themes are mature and rather subtle, so it will likely be best appreciated by adults and older teens. Violence is limited to far-off gunfire and an offscreen death (with subsequent mourning). Characters smoke and sometimes drink beer, and one scene includes nonsexual full-frontal male nudity. Language is infrequent but includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and "hell," as well as frequent use of the "N" word. But this drama is sweet and beautiful, showcasing a powerful, supportive friendship between two men. Set in a marginalized community in an expensive metro area, this film clearly has affection for its characters and for the downmarket neighborhood they occupy. Themes of teamwork, perseverance, tolerance, and empathy are clear.

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What's the story?

In rapidly gentrifying San Francisco, Jimmie Fails (Jimmie Fails) sometimes feels like he might just be THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO. Ejected from the stunning Victorian house he and his family lived in for generations and forced to share a tiny space in a crumbling, toxic neighborhood with his best friend, Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), and Mont's grandpa (Danny Glover), Jimmie dreams of the life he could have with money, space, and a city that allowed him to live comfortably while working regular-person jobs. When a chance to occupy his old home comes up, he grabs it -- heedless of what it might cost. 

Is it any good?

Luminously beautiful and absolutely unforgettable, this tale of an ordinary man crushed by extraordinary pressures may be the best movie about San Francisco ever made. Immediately setting itself apart from lesser San Francisco-set movies (which tend to flash visuals of the Pacific and the Golden Gate Bridge before cutting to Los Angeles interiors), Last Black Man opens with a bravura tracking shot in which the two main characters gracefully share a skateboard together, gliding over hills and city streets from the depressed neighborhood they live in to the sparkling street where Jimmie's old family house sits. It's now occupied by a white woman who resents Jimmie dropping by to secretly tend the garden or touch up the paint on an outdoor windowsill. "What do you want, man?" she begs Jimmie, both nonplussed and infuriated by the intrusions. Jimmie's not exactly sure what he wants, but once he gets inside, all he knows is that he doesn't want to leave. 

And yet viewers suspect that this probably won't end well for Jimmie. He's so poor that he wears the same shirt every day. And his family's former home, bedecked in stained glass and original wood that the camera lingers over as lovingly as if it were filming a sex scene, would cost multiple millions. He works at a hospice; his dad lives in a flophouse motel. In long, gorgeous shots, viewers empathize with the pain of Jimmie's dilemma, the agony written across Fails' expressive face. You can't help him. But oh, how you'll want to. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difference between "independent" and "studio" movies. What's the difference between a movie like this one and one made with a huge budget? What types of stories do big-budget movies tend to tell? Why do you think that indie movies typically tell smaller, quirkier stories?

  • The Last Black Man in San Francisco communicates its setting right in the title. Why? Does that mean that the setting is particularly important to this movie's action? Would you know the movie's setting if the title didn't spell it out? How do movies tell the audience where they're set? Is it always important to the story?

  • When you watch a movie with actors previously unknown to you, does it help you imagine that they're portraying real people? Do you prefer to watch "unknowns" or recognizable actors? Why? 

  • How do Montgomery and Jimmie show perseverance and teamwork in their quest to occupy Jimmie's old house? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Character Strengths

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