The Last Black Man in San Francisco: The Film and the Reality
Being the last black man in San Francisco seems farfetched. Of course it does. This is intentionally absurd, obviously satirical. Of course it is. It should be as ridiculous as it sounds, but when we bring ourselves further into the numbers, perspective and emotion, it’s more bleak reality than artistic satire. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a beautifully shot film concept by childhood friends Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails that came to the attention of many by way of a kickstarter campaign, and since its inception, has garnered the attention of The San Francisco Chronicle, Sundance, The Atlantic, PBS, VICE, NPR, and many more for good reason. This project deserves every bit of attention it gets as it not only looks like a wonderful film, but it addresses an issue that is in desperate need of attention in modern day San Francisco. It’s an issue that many would rather not discuss. This is not just tech, not just gentrification, but the complete removal of a people. Black people.
This movie has such a personal resonance with me. We see a Black man, Jimmie, whose roots begin in The Fillmore, which is where I’m from. There is a shot of the 700 block of Fillmore St, which is where I lived. With melancholy voice, he narrates his experience, his family’s history and his current state. He conspires to return to his home, to a place his heart won’t cease leading him, which is how most of my daydreams are spent. The impossible wish, an agonizing longing. Its five minute trailer makes me emotional every time I watch it. I become angry, sad and heartbroken. This five minute trailer sums up the Black experience in San Francisco. I feel like Jimmy. Most Black people have felt like Jimmy.
Quote from the trailer:
“My Grandfather came to San Francisco in the 1940’s. When he got here – all of this – this whole area was a ghost town. Every block. Vacant homes”
Much of the Black population arrived in San Francisco during WWII and The Fillmore was where most made their new homes. The many vacant homes were unfortunately due to the war and the internment of the Japanese population for a period. The Fillmore quickly became a center attraction, the city’s most lit thoroughfare and was nicknamed The Harlem of the West. The Black population climbed to upwards of 18%. But, not too long after all the love, jazz and many Black born babies, the Urban Renewal project began literally picking up homes and moving them. A project so egregiously racist it gained the nickname “Negro Removal”. When we look at the Black population several years ago it was around 5% and currently I’ve been reading reports saying the Black population in SF is more like 3%, which is the lowest percentage of any major American city. It’s hard to NOT feel like you’re the last black man in San Francisco.
*As a side note I must point out how I love that his “Grandfather didn’t really like the idea of moving into another man’s home. Not under those circumstances. So, he built his own house.” Which is a lesson how to move into an established living space and not be apart a part of the problem.*
Quote from the trailer:
“..I’ve lived in foster homes, homeless shelters and even in a car at one point”
This reveals the existential homelessness that many Black people feel in SF and America. I recently watched a small documentary about the Black population in Seattle being moved out and the sadness and despair that one feels when they never feel wanted or welcomed and the anguish you feel in your soul when you realize that as soon as you feel at home, you’re always the first to go is crushing. One can’t help but feel targeted. Victim doesn’t even speak the level of spiritual destitution of this condition.
Quote from the trailer:
“My grandpa went West when there wasn’t shit left down South. Sometimes I feel like it ain’t nothing left for me here. But, where am I supposed to go? Ain’t shit west of here but water…”
This is Black history for the last four to five centuries- a perpetual Western motion. From the Western shores of Africa, to the Western Hemisphere via the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to the islands, to the South, then moving west to hopefully make a home (and the Western Addition at that). The saddest part of this depression is the fact that it has become such a subconscious part of the daily experience of many that it’s familial. As part of you as any limb. An attached emptiness. A walking, talking, loving – despair.
This film has gained so much momentum and I can’t wait to see the final beautiful product. I’ve been following their progress, watching the new opportunities and the urgency for this film grows with every headline of a pastor or non-profit being evicted, some event being held that the city can’t afford or when you look around a see yet another street become an overpriced metal box shell of itself. It’s slated for a 2017 release. I wish I could click my heels and see it tomorrow.