The Last Black Man in San Francisco hit theaters nationwide last week. We finally got a chance to see it last night; and our take is that it’s one of the most accurate portrayals of skateboarding to hit the big screen in years. This brief examination of why contains a few spoilers. So stop reading now if you don’t want to know any details about the film before viewing it for yourself.
You’re likely already familiar with the basics of the narrative. But if you need a recap, it’s the story of Jimmie Fails’s character’s attempt to reclaim his family’s home in the Fillmore District that was lost during the ‘90s. The theme centers around gentrification and displacement in a city that has literally been colonized by outsiders over the last 10 years.
This is not a movie about skateboarding. But much like the city of San Francisco itself, it’s woven in in such a way that it’s hard to imagine it without it. From the use of skating as basic transportation in the intro, as an escape from problems in the hill bomb scenes, and as a release of aggression in the almost purposeful slam and board focus scenes, it hits some key points nicely.
But more interestingly, it touches on how skateboarding can play into the dynamics of identity and interactions with people through how the protagonists are thought of as weird or outsiders by the group of guys that hang out in their neighborhood despite one of them being a former skater; and how it connects Fails’s character with his Thrasher tank top wearing aunt and her skateboarding boyfriend played by Daewon Song.
There’s also an equal disconnect created with the father when Fails is afraid to admit that he is still skating. And Andy Roy looks perfectly natural in the climax scene when a play is being performed in front of a group that’s largely representative of the old S.F., and nods to the diversity of the people that skaters typically interact with.
In short, the film talks about skateboarding subtly and indirectly, and does so in a really authentic way. We recommend checking it out regardless of if you’re interested in the gentrification of San Francisco or not.