So rarely have I seen a film that fully encapsulates the work of The Detoxing Man as I saw on Friday in watching The Last Black Man in San Francisco. The story is of Jimmy and Montgomery, two black men who are struggling to survive in the face of rapid gentrification and a world that is at best indifferent and at worst overtly hostile to their existence and their friendship within it.
Montgomery, also known as Mont in the film, is a playwright and in what I believe to be the most essential scene, he is on stage performing after a friend of theirs was shot and killed for “bluffing someone out,” for pretending to be something he wasn’t. The murdered friend, Kofi, was killed for trying to be “harder” than he was, for trying to live up to what his male friends were telling him he should be.
And Mont is trying to undo this toxic impulse within his play. He is trying to bring Jimmie into the performance, asking him to speak to the complexity of Kofi’s character. Here is the scene, swears and all:
This scene hit me like a full garbage truck emptying its contents directly onto my chest. The world had a box for Kofi, but it also has a box for us too. The stories we are born into are ones of impenetrable machismo, of bluffing our way through fear, and of hiding much of ourselves just to survive.
Mont, as he imitates a street preacher from their neighborhood, is calling attention to these boxes, asking us to break free from them even though we cannot see them most of the time. He goes on to speak about Jimmy as a fantastic human who is multi-faceted, if he would agree to see himself that way.
And that is the issue at the root of the boxes we live within. We have been within them for so long that we cannot even admit to ourselves just how unhappy they make us. We encourage one another to stay put, to not push beyond the boundaries because we think it is safer to do so. But Kofi, and all others who are directly harmed by the false bravado inherent in the patriarchal personas we wear, is testament to the fact that these boxes do not keep us safe.
They are cages. And they get smaller every time we agree to lose parts of ourselves that don’t fit or when we pretend to believe something false so much that we convince ourself it is true. And this is why I turn to Mont’s words for inspiration, modifying them only slightly to make them about all of us instead of directly about his fallen friend, “What would happen if we could show ourselves. All forms of ourselves. Let us give each other the courage to see beyond the stories we are born into.”
Thank you to The Last Black Man in San Francisco and its authors Joe Talbot and Jimmy Fails. I highly recommend watching the film, as it is gorgeous and contemplative. If you have any ideas for more movies that highlight the struggle to become The Detoxing Man, please leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to build out a library of films that do this!