Don’t Cry For Me San Francisco

San Francisco has become the nation's punching bag — and those that love the city are starting to punch back. Could a new film unite us all? 

San Francisco native Danny Glover (right) costars in The Last Black Man in San Francisco with Fails (left) and Majors (center).
San Francisco native Danny Glover (right) costars in The Last Black Man in San Francisco with Fails (left) and Majors (center).

“If you leave, it’s not your loss. It’s San Francisco’s.”

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Everyone who has loved San Francisco seems to have their own version of the city, one that’s deeply personal and held close, no matter how it jibes with everyone else’s. One version of that city shines in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, a film from director and five-generation San Francisco native Joe Talbot. The movie, which received funding from SFFilm, won two awards at Sundance Film Festival and is garnering a landslide of critical praise, including from Alta’s Dennis Harvey, who says that The Last Black Man in San Francisco may make you a “grateful, tearful mess.” Read his review.

But while Talbot’s film has helped demonstrate the city’s continuing ability to produce significant art, a tech industry boom amid homelessness and housing crises has made San Francisco a punching bag. The New Yorker’s Anna Wiener declared, “Almost everyone I know is down on San Francisco these days, and for good reason.” The Washington Post’s Karen Heller diagnoses San Francisco as “patient zero” of America’s urban ills in an article titled “How San Francisco Broke America’s Heart.” In April, a Forbescontributor wrote that San Francisco’s public poop problem has reached an all-time high (or low, depending on how you feel about human feces on city sidewalks). And Fortune published an article simply titled “What’s Wrong with San Francisco.”

San Franciscans have just about had it with their role as the nation’s big disappointment, and a number of locals have responded with annoyed eye rolls and love letters to the city. “Any other east coast pubs want in on the SF pile on?” asks Curbed SF editor in chief Brock Keeling. SFist wants to know when everyone will go back to “hating on New York.” Mission Local’s Joe Eskenazi notes that San Francisco is definitely “not dying.” And Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle insists that the city is “brimming with soul.”

Say what you will about San Francisco (and its poop), the city still looks great on camera. Several new movies and shows are set in San Francisco, including Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe and its updated Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin. I’ll get to those—just as soon as I return from seeing The Last Black Man in San Francisco. It opens tomorrow. I hear it’s amazing.

This article originally appeared in the June 6, 2019 Alta newsletter.

Beth Spotswood is Alta's digital editor, events manager, and a contributing writer.
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