Brian Banks is a powerful story and my first must-see this year

In Brian Banks, a movie based on the true story of a high school superstar who served six years after being falsely accused of rape, Aldis Hodge staked his claim as an early awards contender.

When you read the description for Brian Banks you likely had a pause. This is a very common story of a powerful or well off man who is accused of sexual misconduct. In most of these cases people blame the woman or don’t take her seriously. Even in a case like that of Brock Turner, where there is no doubt that the man did in fact commit the rape, a judge saw himself in the young, talented Turner and gave him a ridiculously light sentence.

However, when you look at the case of Brian Banks, you can see that there was a clear miscarriage of justice. Banks had to overcome a system that is designed to keep him imprisoned, a history that shows he is not a sympathetic defendant, a lawyer that did not fight for him, and then the technicalities that kept him from truly fighting his case. It is truly amazing that he was able to win in the end and the film does the job of pointing out over and over again how extraordinary he is.

The story

To give some background without telling you all of the details, Brian Banks was a very talented football player. In his sophomore year people were already talking about him being a sure thing to get to the NFL. He already had scholarship offers to the top college football programs, including his dream school The USC Trojans.

Then one fateful day it all came crashing down. The movie dives into the details but essentially Brian, 16, ran into a young girl in the hallway and the two snuck off to the make out spot. After making out but before anything that could be construed as sex happened, they were startled by a teacher coming near.

At this point, Brian reconsidered what was about to happen and rushed out of the stairwell. Telling the girl to exit the other way. According to him, he forgot that the encounter happened until the police woke him up from a nap and took him into custody.

He was tried as an adult, was told to take a plea deal for probation, but the judge decided to give him six years. Brian served those six years and tried to go back to college and get a job but due to his parole and having to put that he served six years for rape on every application, none of this went smoothly.

So Brian chose to fight. He educated himself and stayed vigilant in trying to get the California Innocence Project to take on his case. The movie details all of this and more and does a great job of focusing on the facts without feeling like they’re going out of their way to make the system look bad. It does that on its own.

The system

Brian Banks is the best movie I’ve seen at portraying how the system works against people. From start to finish.

In this case Brian never had a chance. His lawyer let him down with the evidence and then with the plea deal. The judge let him down by rejecting the deal that was on the table and sending him to prison. A 16 year-old being tried as an adult is another let down.

Once inside, Brian having to live with real killers as a 17 year-old was another let down. Brian having to sit in solitary confinement for 60 days, when studies show that most people can barely maintain their sanity for more than seven is another way. He survived prison, only to come out and have to register as a sex offender. He had to put that he was a sex offender on every application he filled out and could not leave his city for five years while on parole. He couldn’t go near a park or a school.

Watching this movie I had many thoughts. Some around the hopelessness of being a black man and being accused of a crime that you didn’t commit and knowing that if you protest passionately you will only be seen as an angry black man. Not to mention Brian being a linebacker (6’3″ around 250 pounds) only adding to this image.

When you hear that a skinny kid like Trayvon or a 12-year-old like Tamir Rice can be described as being strong or big enough to threaten grown men you can only imagine how Banks would appear to a judge or jury. His lawyer saw this too and didn’t fight for him. So then he serves his time, only bettering himself because he chose to since our system does not work to rehabilitate. While in other countries prisons have the goal of trying to help people reintegrate in society, our prisons want you to come back because they need bodies in prisons to make a profit. I’m digressing.

Once he was out he had to deal with the fact that no one wants to hire an ex-convict and especially one who went to prison for rape. It was an uphill battle to say the least. THEN he has people who believe him that he’s innocent but know that it is almost impossible to overturn a conviction in California, because they want it to be that way.

Why is that the case? Should the truth not be more important. This movie stirs up a lot of emotions and again, lays this all out in a factual matter and not in a heavy-handed one that goes over the top in putting down the system.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JULY 05: (L-R) Aldis Hodge, Sherri Shepherd and Brian Banks on July 05, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Aldis Hodge

After coming out of the theater I had to check the reviews. While regular viewers seem to love the movie, critics seem split. However, they are not split on Aldis Hodge’s performance. Whether they appreciated the film or not almost every critic mentioned his performance carrying the weight of this work.

I’ve watched Aldis since he was a kid. He had a very small role in Martin Lawrence’s movie Big Momma’s House (basketball teen #2) and I probably watched that movie 100 times with my family. With that said I have thoroughly enjoyed his recent ascent with roles in movies like Hidden Figures and Straight Outta ComptonBrian Banks should put him on the Oscar radar. Aldis was able to capture Brian’s youthful innocence as a teenager, his anger in juvenile detention, his psychological distress while in solitary and his resolve while trying to move forward. He was able to embody a man who went through what Brian went through and has a couple of very strong speeches, especially one near the end that should play well on an Oscar reel. It is early but I will be highly disappointed if he’s not on short lists come Oscar season.

Overall

This was an amazing film. The fact that it’s true definitely helps give it some weight but the performance by Hodge and also Sheri Shepard, who plays his mother, give it depth. It is definitely a movie that could, and perhaps should, move you to tears but also one that should give you hope.

Additionally, there are the cases like Brock Turner’s and I do appreciate that the movie touched on this. Stories where a young woman is truly victimized and does not get the justice she deserves. It would have been difficult to enjoy this movie without that detail and I do appreciate that it was added. There are some who feel like a movie about a man being falsely accused could be used to push the narrative that all women lie but the people who believe that were going to believe that anyway.

Next: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark review

Watch Brian Banks in theaters now.

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