Actor Jimmie Fails draws from his own story in his portrayal of a young black man navigating a shifting racial landscape in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.” His tale is a familiar one in affluent U.S. cities.
Like his character, Fails is a third-generation San Franciscan whose family lost their home in a once-flourishing African American neighborhood called the “Harlem of the West.” His relatives scattered as housing prices skyrocketed and he struggles to get by in a city that’s not as black as the one he grew up in.
“It’s often like you’re the last black man in the restaurant, the last black man in the barber shop,” Fails, 24, says. “San Francisco feels like a woman that you loved that doesn’t love you back, that you’re trying to get back.”
In “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a 2019 Sundance favorite that opened nationally Friday, Fails is a skateboarder and home caregiver who crashes at night in his best friend Mont’s room at his grandfather’s house in San Francisco.
All the while, Jimmie dreams of reclaiming the grand Victorian home he says his grandfather built in the Fillmore District, before his father lost the home to drugs.