The Last Black Man in San Francisco

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The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019 film poster).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoe Talbot
Screenplay by
  • Joe Talbot
  • Rob Richert
Story by
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyAdam Newport-Berra
Edited byDavid Marks
Music byEmile Mosseri
Production
companies
Distributed by
Release dates
  • January 26, 2019 (2019-01-26) (Sundance)
  • June 7, 2019 (2019-06-07) (United States)
Running time
120 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2 million[2]
Box office$4.6 million[3]

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a 2019 American drama film directed and produced by Joe Talbot in his directorial debut. He wrote the screenplay with Rob Richert and the story with Jimmie Fails, on whose life it is partly based.[4] It stars Fails, Jonathan Majors, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock and Danny Glover.

It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2019, where it won awards for Best Directing and a Special Jury Prize for Creative Collaboration.[5] It was released in the United States on June 7, 2019, by A24.

Plot[edit]

Jimmie Fails is a young man living in Bayview-Hunters Point, San Francisco. He spends his time wandering around town with his best friend Mont Allen, with whom he lives, along with Mont's grandfather. Jimmie waits for the bus with Mont every day, during which they see various states of change in the city and protesters trying to stop it. They skateboard to a Victorian house in the city's Fillmore District where Jimmie grew up. Jimmie says it was built by his grandfather in 1946, who opted to build on an empty lot rather than buy one of the houses made available due to the wartime internment of Japanese Americans. The home is currently occupied by an older white couple. Jimmie often laments to Mont about how they don't take care of the house, and does his best to maintain it himself. One day, Jimmie and Mont visit the house to find the woman crying on her husband's shoulder and movers taking the couple's things away. They learn from a mover that the woman's mother died and that she and her sister are now fighting over the house.

Jimmie and Mont visit a Realtor to inquire about the home. The Realtor is not aware of the current situation, but is very familiar with the house. He tells them it "sounds like an estate thing" in which case the home might stay empty for years until the inheritance is settled. Jimmie and Mont use this opportunity to visit the now-vacant house, exploring it in its entirety. Deciding to take up residence there, they visit Jimmie's aunt Wanda, who gives them the furniture she and the family had when they lived there. With the help of Wanda's husband Ricky, they take everything back to the house and move it in.

One night, Mont invites Kofi, a childhood friend of Jimmie's and his, to the house, and they enjoy a night of relaxation. However, the next day, Kofi says hurtful things to Jimmie about his father in order to appear dominant after being called "effeminate" by his friends. Jimmie and Mont later learn from Kofi's friends that Kofi has been killed by a man with whom he had a scuffle. On returning to the house, they find that their possessions have been thrown out onto the sidewalk, and find a For Sale sign posted by Clayton Newsom, the Realtor they'd visited. Feeling betrayed, Jimmie retaliates by taking all the furniture back inside. He also visits a bank in an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the home. Mont, however, goes back to Newsom, who reveals that the house wasn't built by Jimmie's grandfather; he has the deed proving that it was actually built in the 1850s.

Mont writes a play about the aftermath of Kofi's death, and Jimmie advertises that it will be performed in the house's uppermost tower. On the day of the performance, Jimmie's estranged father appears. During the performance, Mont shows social media posts about Kofi's death, all of which prove, he proclaims, that these people never really knew Kofi. He asks people in the crowd to recount their opinions of Kofi, including Jimmie. Jimmie says that even though the last things Kofi said to him were mean, his experience with him in a group home was friendly, and says, "People aren't one thing". Mont then confronts Jimmie with the truth that Jimmie's grandfather did not build the house. This angers Jimmie, who storms out, followed by the rest of the audience.

Jimmie reunites with Mont at the dock, admitting that he'd known all along that his grandfather hadn't built the house. He watches TV with Mont and Grandpa Allen before going to bed. Mont wakes up and finds Jimmie gone, with a note saying he "didn't know how to say goodbye" and thanking Mont for being his best friend. Mont is left alone, and while he continues various activities that the two always shared, they no longer bring him the same joy when done alone. He stands alone on the dock, staring into the distance. Jimmie is far away, rowing in the water outside the Golden Gate Bridge.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Talbot and Fails grew up together in San Francisco and first discussed the possibility of making the movie as teenagers.[6] However, they found it difficult to make the film in the City due to the lack of a film scene within the region[7] and neither of them had any proper film training nor knew anybody within the industry.[8] Talbot got some initial advice on how to start from a cold email to Barry Jenkins, who shot Medicine for Melancholy (2008) in San Francisco, before he left to shoot Moonlight (2016).[8]

In May 2015, the two shot a preview trailer to raise funds for the making of the film and launched a successful Kickstarter campaign that ultimately surpassed their goal of $50,000 by more than $25,000.[9] Within a month, 1,500 contributors backed the campaign totaling a little over $75,000.[10] The campaign garnered film industry interest as well as national press, and through viral success cemented Fails, who was the face of the #lastblackman fundraising campaign, as a local San Francisco figure.[9]

When Fails and Talbot's short film, American Paradise, made it to 2017 Sundance Film Festival, they met Christina Oh of Plan B Entertainment, who later made introductions for Talbot and producer, Khaliah Neal, to the rest of the company at a shooting for Ad Astra (2019).[11] Jeremy Kleiner, of Plan B, helped pick up the film for production.[11] Principal photography began in April 2018.[12]

In May 2018, it was officially announced that Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, and Thora Birch had joined the cast of the film, with Khaliah Neal producing the film alongside Plan B Entertainment and A24 distributing.[13][14]

The creative team had wanted to cast someone from San Francisco in the role of Kofi, the childhood friend who struggles to be vulnerable with his peers.[15] They met Jamal Trulove at an after-school program in San Francisco while casting for child extras.[15] Trulove was previously falsely charged with murdering his friend in 2007. He was granted a retrial in 2015 and was subsequently acquitted. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors later approved a $13.1 million settlement to him for being framed for murder by the police.[16] Given his background and personal resonance for the role, Trulove was cast on the spot that day.[15]

One of the filming locations was Shipwright's Cottage.[17] Constant demolitions and alterations of San Francisco sites complicated the film production. Talbot is cognizant of the geographical inaccuracies of the film, likening it to Bullitt (1968) which was also filmed in San Francisco.[18]

The film was heavily influenced by the 2001 film Ghost World, also about two outsider friends who don't fit in to their cities and wander throughout, which Talbot was introduced to at age 15.[19] As an homage to that film, Talbot asked actress Thora Birch to appear in a cameo, and notes the connection between her character of Enid and that of Jimmie: "“I always felt her character and Jimmy are similar in a lot of ways, and she got that immediately,” Talbot said. “She and I would joke like, at the end of Ghost World when she gets on the bus, it’s like she never got off the bus and wound up in San Francisco working a tech job she hates.”[20] Talbot also discussed the connection further: "Thora is one of the great actresses of her generation and her work, in part, inspired me to want to make films. Her performance in Ghost World made me feel seen as a teenager when I was a bit lost,” Talbot explained. “At the end of that film, Thora rides a bus off into the sunset. In our film, we meet her character on a bus in the heart of San Francisco—almost as if she kept riding it all these years, and somehow wound up in the Bay Area working a tech job she loathed. Her exchange that follows with Jimmie, however brief, has been written about and quoted more than any other part of the film.”[21]

Release[edit]

The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2019.[22] It released in the United States on June 7, 2019,[23] having previously been scheduled to be released on June 14.[24]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 207 reviews, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "An affecting story powerfully told, The Last Black Man in San Francisco immediately establishes director Joe Talbot as a filmmaker to watch."[25] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 83 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[26]

In her New York Times review, Manohla Dargis made the film a NYT Critics Pick and called it "ravishing, haunting and exultant."[27] The Los Angeles Times's Justin Chang called the film "a gorgeous, moving ode to a city in flux."[28] The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy said it was "by far the best narrative film I saw [at Sundance]. . . . Every scene is fresh and unpredictable, visual poetry and realism are exquisitely woven together."[29] Rolling Stone called it "the best movie of the year" as of June 2019,[30] and Deadline Hollywood's awards columnist Pete Hammond said that it was "the one movie I have seen that should have Oscar written all over it" as of July.[31]

The New Yorker's Richard Brody said that the film was disappointing and lacked "grit or texture of real experience."[32]

Accolades[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients Result Ref.
African-American Film Critics Association December 10, 2019 Best Independent Film The Last Black Man in San Francisco Won [33]
Austin Film Critics Association January 7, 2020 Best First Film Joe Talbot Nominated [34]
Black Reel Awards February 6, 2020 Outstanding Independent Film Joe Talbot, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh and Khaliah Neal Won [35]
Outstanding Actor Jimmie Fails Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor Jonathan Majors Nominated
Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male Jimmie Fails Nominated
Jonathan Majors Nominated
Outstanding Ensemble Julia Kim Nominated
Outstanding Original Score Emile Mosseri Nominated
Outstanding Cinematography Adam Newport-Berra Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards December 15, 2019 Best Original Score Emile Mosseri runner-up [36]
Best New Filmmaker Joe Talbot Won
California on Location Awards December 15, 2019 Location Team of the Year - Independent Feature Film Daniel Lee, Jessica Lee Malloure, Carlisle Silvestri, Christian Baba Nominated [37]
Camerimage November 16, 2019 Main Competition Adam Newport-Berra Nominated [38]
Casting Society of America January 30, 2020 Low Budget – Comedy or Drama Julia Kim and Nina Henninger Won [39]
Central Ohio Film Critics Association January 2, 2020, Breakthrough Film Artist Joe Talbot runner-up [40]
Best Overlooked Film The Last Black Man in San Francisco Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards December 14, 2019 Breakthrough Filmmaker Joe Talbot Nominated [41]
Chlotrudis Awards March 17, 2019 Best Movie The Last Black Man in San Francisco Nominated [42]
Best Director Joe Talbot Nominated
Best Actor Jimmie Fails Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jonathan Majors Won
Best Original Screenplay Joe Talbot, Jimmie Fails, Rob Richert Nominated
Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast The Las Black Man in San Francisco Nominated
Best Cinematography Adam Newport-Berra Won
Best Use of Music in a Film Emile Mosseri Nominated
Best Production Design Jona Tochet Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards January 25, 2020 Outstanding Directing – First-Time Feature Film Joe Talbot Nominated [43]
Dublin Film Critics' Circle December 17, 2019 Best Cinematography Adam Newport-Berra 9th place [44]
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards December 23, 2019 Best First Film The Last Black Man in San Francisco Nominated [45]
Gotham Awards December 2, 2019 Best Screenplay Joe Talbot, Jimmie Fails, Rob Richert Nominated [46]
Breakthrough Actor Jonathan Majors Nominated
Audience Award Joe Talbot, Khaliah Neal, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh Nominated
Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award Joe Talbot Nominated
Greater Western New York Film Critics Association Awards November 10, 2019 Best Debut Performance Jimmie Fails Nominated [47]
Best Debut Director Joe Talbot Nominated
Houston Film Critics Society January 2, 2020 Best Poster Design Nominated [48]
Location Managers Guild Awards 24 October 2020 Outstanding Locations in a Contemporary Film Daniel Lee Won [49]
Locarno International Film Festival August, 2019 Best Film Joe Talbot Nominated [50]
London Film Festival October, 2019 First Feature Competition Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards December 8, 2019 New Generation Award Joe Talbot, Jimmie Fails, Rob Richert Won [51]
Music City Film Critics' Association Awards January 10, 2020 Best Supporting Actor Jonathan Majors Nominated [52]
National Board of Review December 3, 2019 Top Ten Independent Films The Last Black Man in San Francisco Won [53]
North Carolina Film Critics Association January 3, 2020 Tar Heel Award Jonathan Majors Nominated [54]
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle Awards December 15, 2019 Best First Film Joe Talbot Won [55]
Online Association of Female Film Critics December 23, 2019 Breakthrough Filmmaker Nominated [56]
Online Film & Television Association February 2, 2020 Best Music, Adapted Song John Phillips Nominated [57]
Best Breakthrough Performance: Male Jonathan Majors Nominated
Best Feature Debut Joe Talbot 2nd place[a]
Online Film Critics Society Awards January 6, 2020 Best Debut Nominated [58]
Philadelphia Film Critics Circle Awards December 9, 2019 Best Directorial Debut Won[b] [59]
San Francisco Film Critics Circle December 16, 2019 Best Director Joe Talbot Nominated [60]
Best Cinematography Adam Newport-Berra Nominated
Best Original Score Emile Mosseri Won
Seattle Film Critics Society December 16, 2019 Best Original Score Emile Mosseri Nominated [61]
Sundance Film Festival February 2, 2019 U.S. Dramatic Directing Award Joe Talbot Won [62]
Special Jury Award – Creator Collaboration Won
U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Nominated
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards December 8, 2019 Best Supporting Actor Jonathan Majors Nominated [63]

Year-end lists[edit]

The Last Black Man in San Francisco appeared on many critics' lists of the best films of 2019, including:

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Tied with Alma Har'el for Honey Boy
  2. ^ Tied with Olivia Wilde for Booksmart

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]