‘Final Black Man in San Francisco’ screenwriter says Berkeley is shedding its idiosyncrasies

Rob Richert on the set of the movie “Last Black Man in San Francisco.” He co-wrote the screenplay. Photograph: Adam Newport Berra

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is having fairly a second. For the reason that indie movie’s debut two weeks in the past, it’s obtained glowing opinions from dozens of publications, together with the New York Times, the Washington Post and WIRED. The heartfelt take of 1 San Francisco man’s resistance towards gentrification appears to have touched a nerve, thereby drawing extra consideration to a housing disaster that hurts local people of color most of all.

The film’s story got here from the minds of two San Francisco natives, Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot, but it surely was Berkeley-born screenwriter Rob Richert who helped convey their imaginative and prescient to the display. A former movie lecturer at Diablo Valley Faculty and San Quentin State Jail, Richert began making animated motion pictures whereas a scholar at Berkeley Excessive. He labored on a number of notable shorts earlier than serving to Talbot write the script for Final Black Man in San Francisco, which is each Richert and Talbot’s first characteristic.

Richert, who now lives in Los Angeles, spoke to Berkeleyside earlier this week about engaged on the critically acclaimed movie. The film’s concentrate on San Francisco’s altering panorama led to a dialogue of what’s at present taking place in Richert’s hometown and its disappearing idiosyncrasies. These adjustments haven’t escaped Richert and he had loads to say.

Q: How did you begin your movie profession?

A: After I went to Berkeley Excessive, I did a number of animations with a buddy of mine. We have been doing all these actually vulgar animations within the model of Spike and Mike’s Twisted Animation Festival and I grew to become tremendous addicted to creating individuals snort. Then I went to Cal for faculty and took June Jordan’s Poetry for the Individuals. That was what bought me out of poo poo humor and into desirous to do stuff that has some which means and objective on the earth.

Q: When did you begin working with Joe Talbot?

A: I met Joe at SF Movie, the residency there. Joe had simply been to the San Francisco, or the Sundance screenwriting residency. We grew to become quick buddies. I cherished his venture, however I used to be simply type of working alone factor. When he determined to do the quick (a precursor to Final Black Man), then I bought into that. It ended up being chock a block simply engaged on that quick for a number of months. After it performed at Sundance, he handed me the script to Final Black Man. I began giving notes, after which giving notes began to show into serving to rewrite. Then we spent a very good, I’d say three months, shifting round post-it notes on the wall and making new ones and shifting the entire thing round. We put a number of work into this new concept of what the script could possibly be.

Q: ‘Last Black Man In San Francisco’ is about black males, however you and Talbot — two white males — wrote it. How did you two be sure you bought the angle appropriate?

A: That’s one thing we talked about loads. I grew up in Berkeley. I’ve at all times been raised in that understanding of, “There are certain things that you are just not going to understand.” Irrespective of what number of instances you can say, “My best friend is black,” you’re not going to know sure issues. It’s simply not part of your expertise. So it’s essential to have Jimmie and Khaliah, and a few different nice black collaborators alongside the way in which who gave lot of notes.

Q: The most important theme of this movie is belonging. It’s there within the protagonist’s want to remain in a home the place he doesn’t belong, and in Jimmie and Mont’s misfit standing within the native black neighborhood. Is it potential to be born and raised right here, and nonetheless not really feel such as you belong right here?

A: Yeah, I feel that’s what Jimmie goes by means of. He seems like he doesn’t belong anymore, and that’s what he’s combating towards the entire film, proper? However as filmmakers, in presenting that complexity, I don’t know if we wish to weigh in on, “Oh, you definitely can’t belong.” However, the whole lot is telling [Jimmie] he doesn’t, proper? He simply is aware of in himself that he can’t keep there.

Q: It’s a theme for different Bay Space-based motion pictures about gentrification, like “Blindspotting.” Whereas these motion pictures are critically acclaimed, would individuals care about them if there wasn’t this challenge within the Bay Space?

A: I’d prefer to assume they might. I don’t know. You hope that folks would discover, however I additionally assume that sadly, we’re the quintessential instance that folks point out once they speak about gentrification.

San Francisco is a sufficiently small metropolis, and a metropolis with such a wealthy tradition, that you simply really feel the change rapidly. Dropping the wealthy tradition aspect of it makes it extra painful and the smallness of the town is what makes it so dramatic. The issues which have occurred to the Fillmore, it’s such a brutal punch to that neighborhood. A neighborhood can by no means be the identical after that. After all there’s individuals nonetheless there, but it surely’s so completely different. And Oakland, too.

Berkeley too, which is the lesser talked about metropolis, proper? It’s like a special type of gentrification there, in a approach. There may be much less of a racial part to it, though there’s a racial part, however there’s a main cultural part, too. I keep in mind what Telegraph appeared like once I was rising up, and it’s fairly completely different now. It’s much more “bougie” — I don’t understand how else to say that.

Jonathan Majors stars as Montgomery Allen and Jimmie Fails as Jimmie Fails in The Final Black Man in San Francisco. Photograph: Peter Prato / A24
Actor Jimmie Fails and director Joe Talbot on the set of their movie The Final Black Man in San Franciso. Photograph: Adam Newport-Berra / A24

Q: I’ve solely reside right here since 2003, and even I’ve observed it. You could possibly see it from the disappearance of outdated crappy Volvos and the proliferation of Mercedes SUVs.

A: Yeah. There’s simply neighborhoods that was far more tight knit and dealing class. Rather a lot has modified. I keep in mind rising up, there was that complete block that was simply cooperatives. You could possibly get a fucking hammer or a tv or you can get your groceries. All of these are gone apart from the Cheese Board, proper? Lengthy reside the Cheese Board. However it’s unhappy. It’s unhappy that a few of these adjustments have occurred. Hopefully, those that transfer into these areas respect what was there, and possibly they bring about one thing to it, too. You may’t forestall change, however hopefully, you possibly can sluggish it down somewhat.

Q: There’s loads much less nude protests, too.

A: That’s true. Now that you simply say that, I’ll let you know a narrative — one in every of my quintessential tales of gentrification in Berkeley, or a minimum of how the tradition round Telegraph modified. I keep in mind rising up, as a child, I keep in mind strolling down the road with my mother and father, and we walked previous some homeless guys that have been asking for spare change. One man was bare and was pretending to strum his junk prefer it was a guitar, and with deep earnestness and sincerity, he was singing. Simply singing.

I assumed that was the good sh*t I had ever seen. As a 5 yr outdated, I used to be impressed. I might terrorize my household operating round the home bare singing what I referred to as the “naked dance” that I had discovered from this man.

I don’t actually see issues like that anymore. Then once more, possibly I’m somewhat on the market on what I’d prefer to see on the earth. Individuals simply being able to be free and reside their beliefs. To have the ability to push the boundaries somewhat bit.

Q: And studying to simply accept once you boundaries are being pushed.

A: Precisely. There’s a gentleness that’s key. I feel that’s what’s beneath all of it, and that’s what’s beneath this movie. This isn’t one thing I ever had a dialog with Joe about as a result of it felt so proper when he did it, however when he had the repetition of the road “gentle people” within the film. It seems like that’s what we’d like greater than something is gentleness. And what’s are available in, what’s hoping to alter the realm, it doesn’t stand for gentleness. It doesn’t stand for looking for these round you. It’s a machine.

Q: With this movie, there’s this acceptance of scenario, and a realization that the characters simply have to get out and transfer on. Is that what’s going to occur in actual life?
I don’t see it being curved quick sufficient. I perceive the anger as a response. After the Oakland premiere, Tichina Arnold requested, “How do you feel?” and simply put it to the viewers instantly. She simply needed to understand how individuals have been feeling. Lots of people felt love, and lots of people felt anger. It was a extremely clear line. I really feel like I don’t see sufficient issues stopping gentrification to have the ability to have a hopeful response.

Think about our film with a contented ending. Individuals could be booing it as a result of it’s not actual. It’s not what’s taking place. It’s not what persons are feeling.

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Kevin L. Jones

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