Director: Joe Talbot
Stars: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock
Studio: A24

To say that The Last Black Man in San Francisco is about gentrification might make it sound dry or academic. Amazingly, the film manages to tell a story about urban displacement that is emotional and intimate while also concerning itself deeply social and political.

But, the film truly is about gentrification, giving the wonky arguments raging across the country about rent control, development, and NIMBY-ism a human face. More deeply, the film also asks us to consider what it means to have a home, how deep our roots need to be in a community before we can lay claim to it, what say we have as communities change, and whether or not we can ever truly have a home at all. 

Smartly, director Joe Talbot uses touches of magical realism to infuse a story that could be cold and dry with a sense of whimsy and joy. Shots of men in hazmat suits and characters rowing boats in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge combined with stunning, colorful visuals and poetic language elevate the film to the level of fable.

And that’s exactly what the film is: a fable about gentrification. With its beautiful language and imagery the film serves as a fairy tale-like warning about the way American cities treat their communities as disposable. Through the beautiful performances of Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors, Last Black Man in San Francisco warns us that there is only so much we can push and pull the communities of America around the whims of the rich. There are only so many neighborhoods artists can spark to life only to have them painted over in Apple Store Silver and Whole Foods green before the artists have no more life to give. 

There is a price to pricing people out. And it is steep.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is about gentrification, and it is about how when we commodify and uproot beauty, when we sell it to the highest bidding forces of Silicon Valley, eventually there will be no beauty left to sell —Brenden Gallagher