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A reflection on ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’

ROLLINGOUT — Amazing and awestruck are the feelings that came through as my eyes took in the latest indie flick, The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

Jimmy Fails works masterfully to expose the constant thoughts of the gentrifier and their continued foot on the neck of the Black community occupying the city of San Francisco. The circumstances that he faces, along with the city’s other Black and poor residents in general, is made poignant through his gaze and experiences. It is here that the character Jimmie and his best friend navigate the beautiful Alice in Wonderland maze of oppressors while consciousness keeps the dreamy truth about growing into manhood and brotherhood frightening, dangerous, and segregated.

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By Munson Steed

Amazing and awestruck are the feelings that came through as my eyes took in the latest indie flick, The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

Jimmy Fails works masterfully to expose the constant thoughts of the gentrifier and their continued foot on the neck of the Black community occupying the city of San Francisco. The circumstances that he faces, along with the city’s other Black and poor residents in general, is made poignant through his gaze and experiences. It is here that the character Jimmie and his best friend navigate the beautiful Alice in Wonderland maze of oppressors while consciousness keeps the dreamy truth about growing into manhood and brotherhood frightening, dangerous, and segregated.

It is clear from the start that the circumstances of Jimmie’s ancestral family home that doesn’t belong to the family anymore, yet his strong ties to hold onto the warm memories and his only true family tie might breed contempt for the transformation of cultural identity for the Black community and ownership in San Francisco.

The external attacks on brothers of both unemployment, environmental dumps, and drugs illuminate the lack of possibility of any sense of normalcy and development by African-American communities families and their legacy.

As James Baldwin said in his seminal work “I am not your Negro,” Jimmie highlights why the principal feeling of being alienated from society systemically clouds and brutalizes the future faith of young Black men.

For those who will never wear the skin that Jimmie does in the film, each White character seeks to really minimize the impact of a system of gentrification and application of responsibilities by liberals and politicians who its constituencies are not the individuals that bear their skin or their vote at the box.

In one scene, Jimmie showcases the rationale that all societal pressures, and those who have privilege in this country, explain their bloody sinful behavior for economic gain based on “If it wasn’t me, it would’ve been somebody else.” The starkest example being the while real estate agent who after learning about the perilous house’s status decides to list it himself to get the commission while Jimmie is trying his best to reclaim the property with no resources.

The film also showcases the feeling of Jimmie’s friend who is writing Jimmie’s memoir while he is living in the same world, but metaphorically being a Langston Hughes-like character who explains the pain that is omitted from the 5 o’clock news but sometimes highlighted in a very liberal voice by NPR without resolution.

Brotherhood could be felt on so many layers that this might be a movie to use as a healing tool to bring gangland murders to a minimum. We see the brotherhood that has often started within young black men beginning in their unfortunate circumstances like group homes and lonely nights on the corner gaining poor examples of masculine maturity as a death results from the corner training of gang-like confrontation principal rights of passage.

Black male toughness constitution leads to the death of Jimmie’s group home friend. Each man suffers from getting the shackle of their oppressed history and memories to remove the fog of lies and hope from their approach to a new day.

There is a poetic use of blindness in the film where our favorite actor and black community benefactor Danny Glover plays the blind grandfather of Jimmie’s best friend, Montgomery Allen.  He sees everything on another realm but can change why and what his grandson chooses to be. He does appear to know life has given Jimmie a depressed mind, which does not let black men forget their oppressed station.

Glover’s grandfather character is an elder who is praying for his grandson and his community and urges the two men to stick together against the dangers of the world both seen and unseen.

Emotional tears and anger showcase the need for psychological and mental therapy for many black men. Their fathers have failed to create a legacy of emotional intelligence. Instead of lies breed lies and pain rains on all emotional levels.

Heartbreak, dissatisfaction, and disappointment are served by all of San Francisco, which seems to benefit from all tragic losses of the black community and especially black men.

Jimmie Fails writes the life in the land of Flint, Michigan’s black cousin of San Francisco.

The honest depiction of new age colonizers in this movie might have gotten Jimmie’s project left on an editor’s desk. Demonstrating how a liberal and tolerant white society still benefits from black oppression as white actors always explain away part of the constant injustice San Francisco offers as a gift.

Lastly, Jimmie asks Black fathers why don’t we see the cycle of abuse they administer like free cheese. “You didn’t die from so it was not so bad” philosophy that begs for a pass is a lie that expired decades ago.

Brothers cry, scream and accept that their bond as black men must be protected with honesty; but the pain is going to be part of process and practice.

Jimmie Fails work appears to free black men from the lie that the colonizer has defined you and demand a Black redefinition of their future outside the boxed circumstances of their birth.

Jimmie Fails is not your negro either with the masterpiece The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

This article originally appeared in Rollingout.com.

Entertainment

Julie Ethel Dash: The “Strikingly Original Filmmaker”

Although she would later study psychology at City College of New York, Dash continued to long for a career in film. Following her heart, she enrolled in CCNY’s Leonard Davis Center for the Arts in the David Picker Film Institute. During her tenure there, she wrote and produced “Working Models of Success,” a promotional documentary for the New York Urban Coalition.

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Filmmaker Julie Dash

In 1991, the film industry’s racial and gender boundaries were shattered by the release of “Daughters of the Dust.” This Sundance award-winner (Best Cinematography) was presented by filmmaker Julie Ethel Dash (1952–), making her the first African-American woman to have a wide theatrical release of a feature film.

The film is a historically accurate fictionalized telling of Dash’s father’s Gullah family who lived on the islands off the southeastern coast of the United States at the dawn of the 20th century. The entire film takes place outdoors, in the woods, and on the beach, as Black history from West Africa to South Carolina is relived through its physical marks on the present.

The Library of Congress named it to the National Film Registry in 2004.

Dash’s film received critical acclaim and demonstrated widespread box office appeal. The Boston Globe described it as “mesmerizing.” The Atlanta Constitution described it as “poetry in motion”; the Village Voice described the film as “an unprecedented achievement.” Despite these accolades, Dash was brushed off by Hollywood executives when she approached them with the movie.

During a Boston Globe interview, Dash admitted she was told by Hollywood executives that her film was considered “too different” to be marketable. Such dismissal of her work, she added, “was consistent with a systematic pattern of excluding Black women from Hollywood.”

Dash refused to allow Hollywood’s practice of exclusion to define her, her work, or crush her confidence. 

Forging ahead with her dreams of filmmaking success, Dash was the recent recipient of the Special Award at the 82nd New York Film Critics Circle, the 2017 Women & Hollywood Trailblazer Award, the 2017 New York Women in Film & Television Muse Award, and The Ebert Award. She was also inducted into the Penn Cultural Center’s 1862 Circle on St. Helena Island.

Dash has directed multiple episodes of “Queen Sugar” (Season 2) and was nominated for a Directors Guild Award for “The Rosa Parks Story” (2002) starring Angela Bassett.

Dash grew up in Queens, New York. As a teen, she enrolled in a film production course at the Studio Museum in Harlem. It was an experience that opened her mind to filmmaking. 

Although she would later study psychology at City College of New York, Dash continued to long for a career in film. Following her heart, she enrolled in CCNY’s Leonard Davis Center for the Arts in the David Picker Film Institute. During her tenure there, she wrote and produced “Working Models of Success,” a promotional documentary for the New York Urban Coalition.

Dash currently serves as a distinguished professor of art and visual culture at Spelman and a distinguished professor of cinema, television, and emerging media studies at Morehouse. Still, much of what she has achieved has gone unnoticed by the press. 

“I was supposed to be a Black woman filmmaker and I was supposed to make the films they wanted me to make. And they couldn’t see anything beyond that,” she said. And she fooled them all.

Sources:  https://juliedash.tv/biography/ 

https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/la-rebellion/julie-dash 

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Kali O’Ray, San Francisco Black Film Festival Director, 48

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Kali O’Ray. Reimaginepe.org photo.

Kali Onaje Ray, director of the renowned San Francisco Black Film Festival, died on Aug. 7, 2020, from complications of a stroke. He was 48.

He was born on July 9, 1972, in San Francisco to Ave Montague and Walter Ray.

During his teenage years, when he attended San Francisco’s Serra High School and then San Mateo High School for his senior year, Ray was a graffiti artist and used the tag “O’Ray.”

He attended college at Clark University in Atlanta and studied communications, eventually becoming a graphic and web designer.

While in Atlanta, Ray married Katera Crossley.

It was Ray’s mother, Ave Montague Ray, who was the founder of the San Francisco Black Film Festival (SFBFF) in 1998, and when she died of a stroke in January of 2009 at 64, Ray took over as its director.

“Kali picked up the mantle to carry on with his mom’s legacy,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in a statement posted on the festival’s web site. “I am so grateful to have known and worked with Kali and will always remember him as a thoughtful and caring man.”

Ray suffered a stroke on July 28 and was hospitalized and died on Aug. 7 a few days after the original concluding date of Aug. 2 for the virtual SFBFF. The festival has been extended through Aug. 30.

More than the SFBFF’s director, Ray was an institution in the Fillmore as a photographer, videographer, and documentary filmmaker. He also managed restaurant websites, and, pre-pandemic, he worked nights as the doorman and DJ Greenlove at the Boom Boom Room. He also produced the Salsa Festival at the Fillmore Center.

SFBFF is normally held in June to coincide with Juneteenth, but was delayed and became a virtual event that began on July 17. It will continue its run through Aug.30 under the direction with Ray’s widow, Katera Crossley, and their children.

Ray was preceded in death by his mother and leaves behind to mourn his memory his wife, Katera;  daughter Cree Ray of San Diego, sons Ahmad Clayton of San Francisco and Kali Ray Jr. of Atlanta; father Walter Ray of Little Elm, Texas; brothers Kwasi Ray of Charlotte, N.C., Andre Johnson of Folsom and Darryl Johnson of San Francisco, and sister Rhonda McClinton of DeRidder, La.

Contributions can be made to the GoFundMe page.  https://www.gofundme.com/f/kali-oray-of-sfbff

Wire reports and web site sources contributed to this story.

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John Lewis: Civil Rights Lion Gets into Good Trouble in Dawn Porter Documentary

NNPA NEWSWIRE — On what would be called Bloody Sunday, Lewis, who at the time was Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) along with other civil rights lions like Reverend Hosea Williams (SCLC) continued on their march despite then Governor Wallace’s threats and were attacked by the police, sending 58 people to the hospital.

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Described repeatedly as courageous, Lewis’ energy now is not very different from the energy on full display in the footage of the marches and Freedom Rides. Lewis lives and breathes the pursuit of freedom and all around him know it. To be in his orbit, one must hold that value if you are to be a part of his universe. (Photo: Still from film, John Lewis: Good Trouble)
Described repeatedly as courageous, Lewis’ energy now is not very different from the energy on full display in the footage of the marches and Freedom Rides. Lewis lives and breathes the pursuit of freedom and all around him know it. To be in his orbit, one must hold that value if you are to be a part of his universe. (Photo: Still from film, John Lewis: Good Trouble)

By Nsenga K. Burton, NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor

As long as I have breath in my body, I will do what I can. – Congressman John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis is known and revered worldwide for his social justice activism as a young man during the modern Civil Rights movement which sparked large scale civic and social change in America. Many have seen the horrible 1965 footage and photos of Lewis being clubbed in the head while attempting to march from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL arriving at the Edmund Pettus Bridge to 150 police officers waiting to deliver violence and intimidation to the protesters marching for voting rights for Black Americans.

Then Alabama Governor George Wallace had outlawed protests and marchers, who were raising awareness about the plight of Black Americans, who had been made to pay poll taxes, take literacy tests or flatly denied their right to vote by intimidation and the threat of violence at the ballot box. At that particular time, Black Americans made up 57 percent of the population of Dallas County, which is where Selma is located, yet and still only 2 percent of Black Americans were registered to vote.

On what would be called Bloody Sunday, Lewis, who at the time was Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) along with other civil rights lions like Reverend Hosea Williams (SCLC) continued on their march despite then Governor Wallace’s threats and were attacked by the police, sending 58 people to the hospital.

Lewis, who suffered a skull fracture during the attack, left the hospital the following week to testify before Congress about what had happened to the protesters, resulting in the passage of the Voting Rights Act by Congress which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, giving Black Americans the right to vote and offering protections (National Guard) to marchers in pursuit of justice at the ballot box.

In Good Trouble, award-winning documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter (Gideon’s Army, Trapped, Spies of Mississippi) captures the many sides of John Lewis which are all connected to his quest for freedom. Porter shows his early desire to become a preacher eventually leading to a career in social justice and politics.

In the documentary, we see a young John Lewis from Troy, AL who aspires to be a preacher to such an extent, he preaches to chickens. His desires shift when at 15-years-old, the actions of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King change his path, leading the civil rights lion to “Good trouble; necessary trouble to save our country, to save our democracy,” he says.

Lewis, who has been arrested 40 times, five of those times since being a member of Congress, allows viewers into the world beyond politics. Viewers learn how he met and fell in love with his wife, Lillian Miles Lewis, who died in 2012 and that he is still as heartbroken over the loss today as he was the day she passed.

Viewers see the fun side of Lewis, who loves to dance and crack jokes with his mentees and staff. John Lewis lights up any room her enters. Lewis is a man revered for his commitment to Civil Rights and viewers learn that all aspects of his life are tied to that pursuit. Lewis’ values as a human being are always at the forefront of every decision he makes in his personal and professional life.

Lewis’ major value is freedom. “When you lose all sense of fear, you’re free,” offers the activist who literally continues to traverse the country in pursuit of justice. Lewis, 80, who is battling pancreatic cancer stomps for Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams during their high-profile bids for political change.

Colleagues and friends like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Congressman Jim Clyburn, civil rights icon Diane Nash and the late Congressman Elijah Cummings discuss Lewis’ legacy and impact today.

Described repeatedly as courageous, Lewis’ energy now is not very different from the energy on full display in the footage of the marches and Freedom Rides. Lewis lives and breathes the pursuit of freedom and all around him know it. To be in his orbit, one must hold that value if you are to be a part of his universe.

Underscored by a soulful and haunting soundtrack, the documentary also shows the difficult times and sacrifices that sometimes have to be made while in pursuit of justice for all, like Lewis’ damaged friendship with the late civil rights icon and politician Julian Bond. Their 1986 battle over a Congressional seat led to Lewis’ harsh words about one of his closest friends – painful words that Lewis could not take back.

Lewis won the seat and is now in his 17th term as a Congressperson but at what cost? Many of the people in the civil rights movement are passing on and Porter’s documentary begs the question of who will replace these pillars of democracy who are willing to sacrifice so much of themselves for a far greater cause?

Lewis lights up the room wherever he goes. Like Moses, seas of people part to make a clear path for Lewis, who strides to the podium with personal stories and political messages that people need to hear. Lewis clearly understands there are more years behind him than in front of him. He is pained by the strategic and dubious attempts by Congress and the Supreme Court to undo the work of he and his ilk in a supposedly post-racial society.

Lewis knows the stakes are high as he has “lived it” and is now witnessing the dismantling of the protections for no reason other than plain old racism. Like many Black Americans in the United States, suffering from seeing such hard-fought freedoms rolled back, Lewis is broken hearted but not bowed. The 2013 Supreme Court decision dismantling the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing nine states, to change their election laws without federal approval, was another symbolic blow to Lewis and his generation of change agents but they remain unbowed.

Lewis is obviously troubled by what is happening in society. “One of my greatest fears, is one day we wake up and our democracy is gone.” Chilling words coming from a man who has dedicated his entire life to protecting the rights of all Americans in an attempt to bring to fruition the ideals of democracy upon which America was founded. These are also profound words from a giant of change who even at this precarious time in his life, knows that the fight for justice is never over.

“As long as I have breath in my body, I will do what I can,” says the Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, reminding viewers our freedoms hang in the balance and there is more good trouble ahead.

Watch the trailer for the documentary here.

Good Trouble debuted Friday, July 3, 2020 OnDemand on multiple digital platforms.

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