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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Banker is a 1960s-set drama about two of America's first Black bankers. It deals with racism frankly, including discriminatory banking practices and housing segregation. Violence and sex are minimal, but you can expect strong language, including "ass," "s--t," "f--k," and racial epithets like the "N" word. Adults drink (one often, in the middle of the day) and smoke cigarettes and cigars. The film highlights racial discrimination in a fair manner, while showing how classism and racism affect not just Black people, but poor and working-class White people, too. Themes include teamwork, humility, courage, and self-control, and messages touch on social activism, economic empowerment, providing opportunities in marginalized communities, and systemic oppression. Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson co-star.
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What's the story?
THE BANKER is based on the true story of Black businessmen/entrepreneurs Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) and Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson). In the 1960s, they devised a risky plan to hire working-class White man Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) to pretend to be rich and privileged -- and serve as the faux head of their own substantial real estate and banking business empire. (They, in turn, posed as a janitor and chauffeur.) Bernard, Joe, and Bernard's wife, Eunice (Nia Long), train Matt on their business affairs. Things go well until their prosperity gains the attention of the federal government, and they risk losing it all.
Is it any good?
The Banker does an excellent job of showcasing America's legacy of housing and banking discrimination. Overall, the film is solid: The casting is good, and the writing, the cinematography, and the themes work well together. The storyline succinctly conveys the psychological dilemma of what it was like for Garrett and Morris to be living ahead of their time. Double-consciousness is a major theme, further providing a glimpse into the lives of upper-middle-class Black Americans. The words of the great novelist, poet, and playwright Paul Laurence Dunbar best describe the plight of people like Bernard, Joe, and Eunice, who felt they had to hide their true identities to thrive in a racist society. As Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask" says: "We wear the mask that grins and lies, it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, this debt we pay to human guile; with torn and bleeding hearts we smile ... "
The themes of The Banker hit home without being overly racially charged or preachy. Capitalism is portrayed positively, with messages about ideas of using material gain to benefit others, the importance of property ownership, and the value of entrepreneurship throughout. Mackie is superb as Bernard, and Hoult brings a believable innocence and compassion to the role of Matt Steiner. Long does a fine job as the sophisticated Eunice, and Jackson brings flair and a much needed exuberance to scenes full of talking about real estate and banking. Bottom line? This movie cleverly highlights the power of teamwork and collaboration and shows that sometimes help can come from unlikely sources.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the Fair Housing Act of 1968. What was it intended to accomplish? Do you think people of color are still discriminated against when looking to rent or buy property?
How do Bernard and Joe defy negative stereotypes about Black men? How does that contribute to positive representation in the media?
Racism, classism, and internalized superiority are all present in the movie. In what ways do these realities lead to humility, self-control, and perseverance in the lives of Matt, Joe, Bernard, and Eunice?
Toward the end of The Banker, there's talk about the American Dream. Is that a real or imagined thing? Do you think that in America, everyone has equal access and a fair chance of achieving the American Dream?
- In theaters: March 6, 2020
- Cast: Samuel Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Nicholas Hoult
- Director: George Nolfi
- Studio: Apple
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Activism, Great Boy Role Models, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Humility, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: on appeal for some strong language including a sexual reference and racial epithets, and smoking throughout
- Last updated: March 21, 2020
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