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Brian Banks

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Brian Banks Movie Poster Image
Faith-tinged overturned-rape drama has problematic messages.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 99 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Themes of compassion and perseverance. Messages include looking at despair as a doorway to opportunity and realizing that the only thing you can control in life is how you respond to things. On the other hand, the film is about something that rarely happens -- a woman lying about rape -- and its existence may serve to further an environment of victims not being believed.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Justin Brooks, a real lawyer who created California Innocence Project, works tirelessly without pay to exonerate those falsely imprisoned (he's also this film's executive producer). Jerome Johnson is a volunteer who encourages convicts to use their prison time to turn their lives in a positive direction. Brian Banks is a falsely accused man who's shown to act with integrity, overcomes adversity through persistence (he, too, executive-produced the film). More problematic: the movie's portrayals of black women tend to be negative and/or stereotypical. Banks' accuser is portrayed as a single mother with several babies who lacks intelligence; her mother projects a sassy attitude, and together they used the rape accusation to sue and win $1.5 million (that part is factual, but they're overtly depicted as gold diggers). Additionally, Banks' black female attorney is shown to be incompetent. The white male attorney, on the other hand, is shown as being able to see what the Latinx district attorney and the Asian judge couldn't and doing what the black female attorney can't (to underline the white savior aspect further, Banks cries to him, "you are the only person who can save me").

Violence

The film is about an allegation of rape, kidnapping, and sodomy; there aren't any graphic descriptions of the sexual charges, but all conversations come from the perspective of an alleged attacker who's later exonerated. In prison, a man is stabbed, and the bloody knife is seen being pulled out of the victim. 

Sex

Two teens sneak into a secluded hallway to make out; one unzips the other's pants with the intent to have sex. A couple meet and start dating. 

Language

Strong language includes "ass," "bitch," "d--k around," "pissed," "s--t," and several uses of "f--k."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A meeting takes place at a bar, where a lighted sign reads "beer" and characters discuss matters while drinking beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the fact-based, faith-infused drama Brian Banks seems like a slam dunk of an inspirational story, but it's actually a bit of a minefield that requires extra critical thinking. Banks was a high school sophomore with a promising football career when he and a female classmate snuck into a hallway to fool around. As he tells it, she wanted to go all the way and he didn't, but she ended up accusing him of rape. He pled no contest and went to jail, but the terms of his parole made his life difficult, so he fought an uphill battle to prove his innocence. His accuser doesn't get to tell her story here, and Banks says he doesn't know why she lied, but the film strongly suggests that the intent was revenge and regret (some of the most oft-repeated rape myths). Several black female characters are depicted stereotypically, as dumb, conniving, gold-digging, promiscuous, vengeful, incompetent, sassy, and, in one case, as an unmarried single mom with multiple children. Additionally, Banks' main attorneys, who are white, are shown to be smarter and savvier than everyone else, including the Latinx district attorney and Asian judge. The film fuels distrust in authority and the legal system, and the good guys frequently utter "'f--k' the system" (other curse words include "s--t," "bitch," and more). California Innocence Project is an admirable organization, and Banks has become an inspirational celebrity figure in real life, but the messages teens take from this film may not all be positive. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bysethg90067 August 8, 2019

Bashing spiritual films is becoming a sport.

Very sad that movie critics today - you know the ones who've never picked up a camera, sold a screenplay, directed a film - continue to bash spiritual film... Continue reading

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What's the story?

BRIAN BANKS (Aldis Hodge) was a promising high school football player when he was accused of rape and, on his attorney's advice, pled no contest. Later, while on parole, Banks doggedly worked to prove that he didn't commit the crime. With the help of lawyers from the California Innocence Project, Banks was exonerated on all charges and went on to fulfill his dreams.

Is it any good?

As the #MeToo movement makes progress in allowing sexual assault victims' voices to be heard and believed, this film feels like a male ego boost in the form of a "sports, god, victory" trifecta. It perpetuates rape myths, generates the largely unwarranted fear of false accusations, and may contribute to reviving a culture of silencing women and discouraging reporting sexual violence -- all wrapped up in a rah-rah package. Additionally, it bangs the drum of the white savior story to the point that Banks tearfully pleads that white California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear) is the only person who can save him. (Banks is the project's most high-profile case to date and has gone on to become a celebrity: After his exoneration, he played for the Atlanta Falcons, worked for the NFL, and became a TV show host.)

Both the real-life Banks and Brooks are executive producers of the movie. That's important in the realm of critical thinking, because there's no doubt that Brian Banks has an agenda -- but critical thinkers need to decide for themselves what it is. This isn't the first film about the Innocence Project, and the group is admirably committed to raising awareness of wrongful convictions and criminal justice reform. But Brian Banks is the first Innocence Project-related movie with a faith-based element (Banks looks up at the light and is seen praying at key moments). And then Banks' mother, Leomia (Sherri Shepherd), delivers a speech that bears striking similarity to talking points from Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing. In the capable hands of director Tom Shadyac, the film succeeds in raising awareness of why an innocent person would take a plea deal rather than gamble on jail time, how less privileged communities suffer the most, and the power of persistence, positivity, and resilience. And yet, when Kinnear-as-Brooks coaxes a recantation out of Banks' accuser by putting words in her mouth, it feels like the scales of injustice don't just tip in favor of Banks but leave a vulnerable population of sexual assault victims hanging in the air yet again.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of clear consent in sexual situations, as well as their perspective on teenage sex.

  • Teens and parents can also discuss the importance of conscientiously not putting yourself in a position for someone to take advantage of you.

  • The message "You can't control life, but you can control your response to life" is repeated in Brian Banks. What does that mean? What examples can you think of from your own life?

  • What is resilience, and why is it an important character strength? How does Banks demonstrate the power of persistence? How does he persuade the California Innocence Project to take his case? 

Movie details

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