The Last Black Man in San Francisco

I had been interested in watching The Last Black Man in San Francisco since I first heard about it. I thought that it would be insightful. If not that, then thoughtful. If not that, then at least coherent. I was wrong. This reinforces my suspicion that my own tastes are not aligned with whatever factors get movies high ratings. For example, the worst movie I’ve ever seen has a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 94% on Metacritic. Which movie? Apocalypse Now Redux: 3+ hours of mucking around in the jungle with no plot.

Similarly, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is 2 hours of running around San Francisco with no plot. But at least San Francisco is visually stunning and the cinematography was beautiful and fresh. The rest? I said it was like a French movie, and an actual French person responded “No, it’s much worse. It’s been 40 minutes and nothing has happened.”

I’m not sure what message I am supposed to receive about the black people left in San Francisco. Am I supposed to sympathize with someone who repeatedly trespasses because he’s caring for his grandfather’s old house? The older white couple that owns it at the beginning of the movie tells him to leave and not come back. He doesn’t leave and he ignores their request not to come back. Later, when the couple moves out of the house, the protagonist moves in as a squatter. Throughout the movie, there are many times where the protagonist and his best friend yell “AAAHHHHHHHHH!!!” at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason. Am I watching a NatGeo special? Is this animalistic hollering common in the remaining black population of San Francisco? Does it communicate something? I suppose I’m not versed in the language of “primal scream” — those scenes only served to disturb and annoy me.

There are half a dozen or so scenes of a group of black men standing in front of a house shouting (talking to?) each other: every other word out of their mouths is “nigga.” I don’t understand the purpose of these scenes either. They do draw a contrast between the two main characters and the stereotypical young black man, but to what end, I have no idea.

I did appreciate that the movie touched on how the Fillmore was a Japanese neighborhood until World War 2 when the government forced them into internment camps. Did blacks take over the empty houses as squatters en masse at that time? I can’t find any sources willing to print that outright. This brings the point that the protagonist’s grandfather’s claim to the house may not have been more legitimate than his own.

The movie doesn’t cogently address any of the issues I thought would come up. There isn’t much about gentrification or race or even why there are fewer and fewer blacks living in San Francisco. Maybe I was expecting something different: a documentary or a comedy. What I got was a gorgeously shot but bloated pointless meandering that didn’t even have someone for me to root for. It’s still not as bad as Apocalypse Now, but it’s definitely among the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Maybe worth watching on mute to see pretty SF scenery: you can just fast forward through the “nigga” and yelling scenes.

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