race and space

Review: “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”

Scene from "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" / Photo Credit: Peter Prato, in Variety

In a season of blockbusters, it behooves moviegoers to remember the art of film. The most iconic image of this film is the opening scene: a little girl sucks a lollipop in front of men who look down at her in hazmat suits, right before she skips away. The film evolves from there, with the fascinating dichotomy of the Black experience in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Anyone who believes that they truly enjoy cinematic films that approach contentious subjects should see this film.

From start to finish, the movie is a commentary on the Black experience through displacement. As the main character and his best friend wait for the bus in their predominantly Black neighborhood, the bus never comes, and throughout the movie, one never sees the bus in a Black neighborhood. They instead decide to skateboard to their location which is in a predominantly White neighborhood. White people stare at the invaders of what is considered “their” space, but fortunately, there are no police brutality incidents. However, when being confronted by White people, the Black men are threatened with police contact if they refuse to leave the area.

In the Black neighborhoods, there are no businesses, only houses. Neither of the main characters can get to their jobs without alternative modes of transportation, while there are businesses and living wage jobs surrounding the houses in the White neighborhoods. Even though there were Black men outside who were verbally rousing each other, deeper conversation opens the perspective of the humanity and insecurity lurking within each of them. None of the verbal rousing confronts anyone other than the other Black men in the conversation, and all the Black residents were united in the understanding that they were losing their neighborhood.

Almost none of the White San Franciscans address any of their fellow Black residents, except with two emotions: humor or contempt. When the main character makes an attempt to reach out to one, he is growled at by a dog, he is condescended to, and he is consistently talked over and corrected. The aura of the city–which is true of many cities like it–is that the Black people are in the way, and the city would truly improve if there were no Black people in it. They are not considered essential, and their absence is not considered a loss to the character of the city.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this movie, not least of which that cities are apathetic to the loss of diversity. Black people are expected to interact with each other without interfering with the business of removing them from sight, by any means necessary. The layers of this movie are endless, and by the end there are no easy answers. In short, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is the story of displacement from the people being displaced.

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