A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
- In theaters: August 9, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 12, 2019
- Cast: Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd
- Director: Tom Shadyac
- Studio: Bleecker Street
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic content and related images, and for language
- Last updated: November 11, 2019
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