The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a movie about place in the contemporary American city; where one’s historical connection to a building, land, or city is ripped away from them due to familial, societal, and structural systems of oppression, capital acquisition, and gentrification. The house has become a plot device which unlike a McGuffin—an object pursued, without quality or nature which is important to the story, the house, located at 955 Golden Gate in the Fillmore, becomes a metaphorical and physical pursuit of the producer, writer, and actor in this semi-biopic, Jimmie Fails. Who, with his friend, Mont (Jonathan Majors), must reckon with his past and question his place within the changing city. 

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The Victorian_The Last Black Man in San Francisco, 2019
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Jimmie and Mont Skating Through Bayview-Hunters Point_The Last Black Man in San Francisco, 2019

The movie, with its loose plot, is kept on track through the placement of the actors in the house. This allows the house to perform not only as a stage piece but as a crucial architecture that provides the audience with a sense of storytelling timing.


Understanding The Last Black Man in San Francisco and its architecture requires an understanding of the social and cultural conditions that define San Francisco and the neighborhood in question: the Fillmore. The Fillmore, located centrally in San Francisco, is at the base of Twin Peaks, west of downtown San Francisco, and abutted by Market Street. Its central location has impacted its historical basis as a working-class district that has seen natural and forced occupation and displacement of Jewish, Filipino, Mexican, Russian, Japanese, and African-American residents.

To some degree, this cycle of cultural impartment and forcible removal has greatly shaped San Francisco, and can be tracked through The Last Black Man in San Francisco to both color Fails’s story and impart insight into his feelings as San Francisco becomes the place he both loves and hates. 

His Story

The complete history of displacement is a long history of San Francisco, which depicts the occupation of property and a house as something fluid and changing; however, for a life faced with uncertainty and instability, Jimmie Fails constructs an abridged personal history in The Last Black Man in San Francisco that allows for clarity and control of his grief. This history is channeled through the Victorian house standing as a stable and centering feature of his life.

This history, (or perhaps more aptly in regards to Jimmie Fails: “his-story”) is slowly revealed through the course of the movie to be the story of the “first black man of San Francisco”, Jimmie Fails I, (the protagonist’s grandfather) who migrates to San Francisco from New Orleans in 1946 to take up work at a factory during World War 2. Rather than occupying a recently emptied house by a Japanese family in the Fillmore, Jimmie’s grandfather builds a house in the style of an 1850s Victorian. This house is the home Jimmie remembers and idealizes in his life. The trouble: his father’s con-ing, and drug addiction, loses them the house and leads to an unstable upbringing—moving them from place to place, squatting when possible, and sleeping in their car when they must; even causing, during one year of his life, Jimmie to live in a group home. 

Eventually, through stability assisted by his best friend, playwright, and fishmonger, Mont, Jimmie returns to his familial home in the Fillmore every two weeks to perform repairs—at the annoyance of its more current occupants, a white, baby-boomer couple. 

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Residents and Jimmie Disputing in Yard_The Last Black Man in San Francisco, 2019

The House as a Storytelling Device

Throughout The Last Black Man in San Francisco, the choice of room and setting within and around the house dictates the stage of the movie. This begins with Jimmie and Mont situated outside, peering at the house through the leafy greens of the garden—an oasis and safe haven hidden from the city.

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Victorian Through the Vines_The Last Black Man in San Francisco, 2019

Back Stairs

The engagement with the house as a set is also seen as Jimmie and Mont breach the backdoor and enter the house. This scene, with its diagonal composition and high action, speaks to the sense that this is an ascension: they break free from their removal from the house (and San Francisco at large) and instead, take it back through a surprise attack—the surprise nature is also alluded to through the use of the back porch.

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An Assault for Ownership_The Last Black Man in San Francisco, 2019


As Jimmie has begun to take ownership of the house in its resident’s absence, he continues repairing and moving furniture in. Additionally, Jimmie begins to assert his ownership: telling his story and counternarrative to an architecture segway tour that tells a history of the Victorian House that contradicts his own. This scene, with Jimmie on the balcony, reads like an Ancient Roman emperor speaking down to subjects or Mussolini professing to his citizens at the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia. This powerful image utilizes its framing to raise Jimmie and position him in a place of authority within the house and its history: allowing the tale he tells to be the truth.


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Jimmie’s Balcony Proclamation_The Last Black Man in San Francisco, 2019


Set within the basement sauna, an addition by the white baby-boomers, the scene between Mont, Jimmie, and fellow friend from the neighborhood Kofi (who is killed in a shooting which acts as inspiration for Mont’s later play), acts as a linch-pin moment where the history which Jimmie has told himself is laid out in full. This is a foundational memory for Jimmie, and as such, it takes place in the house basement—laying the foundation for the stories (both physical and metaphorical stories to occur above them).

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Basement Shvitz_The Last Black Man in San Francisco, 2019


The climax of The Last Black Man In San Francisco, aptly set, is a performance of Mont’s play within the attic. Set within the highest point of the house, this climax forces Jimmie, the community, and the viewer to question the histories and relationships we convince ourselves we have. 

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An Attic Play_The Last Black Man in San Francisco, 2019


Jimmie’s final scene within the house takes place in the entryway. He stands, looking and taking in the house. The camera, positioned on the stairs, creates a relationship with Jimmie, where he is but a visitor saying goodbye in the entryway with the viewer positioned as the owner, looking down from above. 

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An Entry Goodbye_The Last Black Man in San Francisco, 2019

An Open House

Our final glimpse of the house in The Last Black Man in San Francisco comes not from the point of view of Jimmie, but from Mont. As Jimmie has come to terms with his past and the true history it entails, the house is divorced from this meaning and instead, has undergone a “realtor’s special” with new fresh white paint and staged furniture. This image presents the architecture’s subtle quirks but divorces it from its history which Jimmie has shared with the viewer and with Mont. As Mont slowly walks through the house the audience gets a melancholy feeling of absence and loss as the memories Jimmie tells Mont and Mont remembers from the experience run over and permeate the spaces.

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An Open House_The Last Black Man in San Francisco, 2019


The Last Black Man in San Francisco, treats the city and its architecture as hyperobjects: objects of human creation that have generational impacts that shift society, culture, nature, and us as beings. Just as a single ring of a tree or layer of sediment within a rock depicts only a short bit of the object’s entire life, the history Jimmie told himself about the Victorian house on Golden Gate was only a part of the story. However, for him, it was the entire story.

This is the lesson I take from this movie, love and hate come from the memories produced in the city and our buildings, the attachments made, and the relationships created, but at the end of the day, the city and houses will be unfazed by our impact, they are just objects whose permanence carries on with our without us. Whether cared for or neglected, the city and its buildings don’t tell the stories—they may contain histories—but we tell ourselves the tales of the lives lived within our buildings.


The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019). A24.


Andrew Boghossian is a designer and researcher who graduated from Cornell University in 2023 with a Bachelors of Architecture with a concentration in architectural science and technology, as well as a minor in Urban and Regional Studies. He has worked in historic preservation, architectural design, and building deconstruction and salvage.