Don’t Cry for Me San Francisco

“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 Forbes contributor 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.

—Beth Spotswood

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Our recommendations for this week’s best writing about California and the West.
The Tacoma Refugee Choir Formed to Reach Out to the Most Vulnerable. Its Founder Didn’t Anticipate Its Impact on Her—or Her City — Seattle Met

The Homeless Can Now Hold On to More of Their Property on the Streets of Skid Row — L.A. Taco

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Support Alta and our event partners at these upcoming events:
TONIGHT: Alta and Books Inc. present clinical psychologist and writer Walt Odets for a discussion of his impassioned new work, Out of the Shadows: Reimagining Gay Men’s Lives. Odets will be in conversation with Ed Wolf, who has worked in the HIV/AIDS field since 1983, as chronicled in the award-winning documentary We Were HereDetails: Books Inc., 601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, 7 p.m., free.
TONIGHT: Join Alta and Vroman’s for a conversation between author Peter Houlahan and Rolf Parkes, a onetime deputy with the Riverside County sheriff’s department. The pair will discuss Houlahan’s Norco ’80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History. The book tells the story of how five heavily armed young men—led by an apocalyptic born-again Christian—attempted a bank robbery that turned into one of the most violent criminal events in U.S. history, forever changing the face of American law enforcement. Part action thriller and part courtroom drama, Norco ’80 transports the reader back to the Southern California of the 1970s, an era of predatory evangelical gurus, doomsday predictions, megachurches, and soaring crime rates, with the threat of nuclear obliteration looming over it all. DETAILS: Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 7 p.m., free.
Saturday, June 8: Join Alta and Book Passage for a punk rock conversation with X’s John Doe and author Tom DeSavia. Picking up where their book Under the Big Black Sun left off, Doe and DeSavia’s More Fun in the New World explores the years 1982 to 1987, covering the dizzying pinnacle of L.A.’s punk rock movement, as its stars took to the national—and often international—stage. Detailing the eventual splintering of punk into various subgenres, the second volume of Doe and DeSavia’s West Coast punk history portrays the rich cultural diversity of the movement and its characters, the legacy of the scene, and how it affected other art forms and ultimately influenced mainstream pop culture. The book also pays tribute to many of the fallen soldiers of punk rock, the pioneers who left the world much too early but whose influence hasn’t faded. Details: Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 4:30 p.m., free.
Wednesday, June 12: Julia Flynn Siler’s The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown tells the stories of a group of abolitionists who fought to free enslaved Chinese women in the late 1800s and the young women who dared to flee their fate. Siler relates how the women who ran San Francisco’s Cameron House challenged the corrosive anti-Chinese prejudices of the time; defied contemporary convention by physically rescuing children from the brothels where they worked or snatching them off ships as they were being smuggled in; and helped bring the exploiters to justice. This is a remarkable chapter in an overlooked part of San Francisco history, told with sympathy and vigor. Siler will be in conversation with author and New York Times (and Alta) contributor Bonnie Tsui. Details: Mechanic’s Institute Library, 57 Post St., San Francisco, 6:30 p.m., free for members, $15 for the general public.
Thursday, June 27: Join Alta and Book Passage for a look back at Berkeley in 1969. Through eyewitness testimonies and hundreds of photographs, The Battle for People’s Park, Berkeley 1969 commemorates the 50th anniversary of one of the most searing conflicts that closed out the tumultuous 1960s: the Battle for People’s Park. In April 1969, a few Berkeley activists planted the first tree on an abandoned, University of California–owned city block near the campus. Hundreds of people from all over the city helped build a park there as an expression of a politics of joy. On May 15, which would soon be known as Bloody Thursday, a violent struggle erupted. Hundreds were arrested, martial law was declared, and the National Guard was ordered to crush the uprising. One man died; another was blinded. Fifty years on, the question still lingers: Who owns People’s Park? Alta’s Beth Spotswood will moderate a discussion with author Tom Dalzell, Heyday Books’ Steve Wasserman, and Book Passage owner Bill Petrocelli. Details: Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 7 p.m., free.
Tuesday, July 16: In his new novel, Deep River, author Karl Marlantes crafts a stunningly expansive narrative of human suffering, courage, and reinvention. In the early 1900s, as the oppression of Russia’s imperial rule takes its toll on Finland, the three Koski siblings—Ilmari, Matti, and the politicized young Aino—are forced to flee to the United States. Not far from the majestic Columbia River, the siblings settle among other Finns in a logging community in southern Washington. The brothers face the excitement and danger of pioneering this frontier wilderness, while Aino, foremost of the book’s many strong, independent women, devotes herself to organizing the industry’s first unions. As the Koski siblings strive to rebuild lives and families in an America in flux, they also try to hold fast to the traditions of the home they left behind. At its heart, Deep River is an ambitious and timely exploration of the place of the individual, and of the immigrant, in an America still in the process of defining its own identity. Marlantes will be in conversation with Alta managing editor Blaise Zerega. Details: Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 7 p.m., free.
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