It’s nearly impossible to discuss urban areas in the United States without assessing the impact of gentrification on neighborhoods. Such a change is at the heart of the story in The Last Black Man in San Francisco from writer/director Joe Talbot. Jimmie Falls stars as essentially himself, which makes sense given the movie is based on his own story of life in the city.
Jimmie is trying to reclaim the San Fran house he used to live in, one built decades ago by his own grandfather. His efforts are aided by his longtime friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) but hindered by the reality that San Francisco is now one of the most expensive, racially and financially segregated cities in America.
A lone boat sails on the water on the first poster, the Golden Gate Bridge in the background to make sure everyone understands what city the story will be taking place in. It’s simple, with just the title and some positive quotes cluttering the image along with the film’s Sundance credentials.
The second one-sheet is designed to look like the cover of a dime-store novel, with paintings of Jimmie and Montgomery in a frame that sports the title at the top and some pull quotes from positive reviews toward the bottom. I’m sure this is done in the style of a black artist I’m not familiar with, which is a shortcoming on my part. Still, it’s fantastic.
The trailer opens with Grandpa Allan’s voiceover explaining the history of how San Francisco was built in ways most people don’t understand. He’s encouraging Jimmy and Montgomery to stick together before we see them exploring what Jimmy believes to be his old house and imagining what the two friends could do there. Circumstances keep telling Jimmy he should leave SF but he refuses, believing his future is there in that city in some important way.
What the trailer promises is a story of how identity is tied so closely to location, and vice versa. Jimmy can’t leave because S.F. is in his soul would change that much more if he were to do so. But it also makes clear that others don’t want him there, maybe not saying so overtly but still communicating it through the changed reality they impose on the city and its residents.
Online and Social
A24’s page for the movie is simple, mostly dominated by a synopsis alongside the trailer and poster. There were also outposts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing I’m aware of in this category.
Media and Publicity
This year’s Sundance Film Festival hosted the movie’s premiere. It was received do well it won multiple awards at the festival, including the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize.
In late May the cast and director appeared at the premiere, hosted at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theater, where they also engaged in a Q&A with attendees.
Interviews with Falls have focused on themes relevant to the movie’s story, including how the film captures a city that no longer exists because it’s been invaded by tech bros and entrepreneurs who have pushed out long time residents and jacked up real estate prices. Those costs are so high members of the production couldn’t even afford to stay in the city while filming.
There were also multiple appearance by Falls and Talbot on local San Francisco media, where they talked about their love for a city that doesn’t seem to love them back.
Other recent films about the Black experience in America have focused on the violence they face at the hands of police and the systemic racism that’s built into much of society. The message presented in the campaign here is that this film is more about how the Black identity is being erased from areas they once they called their own, all in the name of progress. That progress is only for some, though, a group that doesn’t include them.
To send that message the campaign offers a lyrical reality that’s different from the magical one presented in films like Sorry To Bother You. It doesn’t want to present a metaphor or analogy, it wants to show in no uncertain terms how whole groups are being displaced and shut out when powerful forces with deep coffers invade.
Picking Up the Spare
This feature story goes deep on Falls’ real story to explore how San Francisco’s changes impacted him and the movie’s production, as does this interview with him and this one with him and Talbot. The director got his own interview about making the movie and his feelings about the city here.
EW took a tour of the SF home that serves as the story’s setting and the impetus for much of the story.
Another great poster shows Falls standing on a San Francisco street. He’s made to look like he’s leaning forward, while the houses behind him are also cockeyed, an acknowledgement of the city’s sometimes steep topography.
Costar Jonathan Majors was the subject of a profile here.