Watching ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ as a Palestinian-American

Where does the connection to a place come from when you’ve never touched it?

Fargo Tbakhi
Gay Mag


Illustration by Johnalynn Holland

OnOn the first page of Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Returning to Haifa, there’s a passage I’ve never forgotten. It comes as Said, a Palestinian forced from his home in Haifa during the Nakba, drives with his wife towards a home he hasn’t seen in twenty years:

“Then suddenly came the sound of the sea, exactly the way it used to be. Oh no, the memory did not return to him little by little. Instead, it rained down inside his head the way a stone wall collapses, the stones piling up, one upon another.”

As I sat in a darkened theater in Scottsdale, Arizona, for a long time after the credits of The Last Black Man in San Francisco had finished rolling, I felt something like the reverse of this feeling: the memory swelling in my chest not like a wall collapsing, but perhaps like one being built up. I’d just come from a stressful work trip, I was tired, and it was a late showing, but I knew that the response I was having was something more than that. Something in my body recognized an ache that the film codified into light, shadow, motion, sound. Finally I got up, wiped the tears from my face, and all I could think was: what if we can’t go home again?