Political Film Review #597


At the age of 16, Brian Banks (played by Aldis Hodge) is a star football athlete at Long Beach Polytechnic High, looking forward to a scholarship from USC. On campus one day, he encounters a girlfriend, Kennisha Rice (Xosha Roquemore), and the two decide to do some smooching, so they go past several classrooms to a hallway where secret lovemaking is common but risky. After kissing her, he explains that he could be caught doing something impermissible and leaves. He does not realize that Kennisha might interpret his departure as rejection. She then tells another classmate about the incident, a security hall officer, and later her mother (Monique Grant). Her mother then files a police complaint for the alleged kidnapping and rape, resulting in his arrest. But his public defender offers a “deal” to plead “no contest,” assuring Brian that he will be able to avoid imprisonment. When the court hearing is held, the prosecutor welches on the “deal,” so Brian goes to prison for six years, where he is bullied yet consoled by a prison social worker (Morgan Freeman, who is strangely unacknowledged in the credits). Meanwhile, Kennisha’s mother files a negligence claim for lax security against the school and wins a $1.5 million settlement.

After Brian’s release, a GPS tracker is placed on his ankle by his probation officer, who warns him not to go near parks or schools. His budding career is over. Knowing that he is innocent of the crime to which his “no contest” will automatically become “guilty” at the end of his probation, he decides to seek help from the California Innocence Project, headed by Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear). The bulk of Brian Banks then traces how he seeks redemption. Although reviewers are not supposed to talk about the ending, he does receive exoneration, seeks the NFL football career, trains for a year, and then lands a job with the Atlanta Falcons.   

Directed by Tom Shadyac, Brian Banks provides filmviewers with a vivid insight on how the criminal justice system provides anything but justice for African Americans. For example, the crime of kidnapping was impossible, since Brian and Kennisha walked across crowded classrooms, and she did not make any sounds of protest. Nevertheless, prosecutors never even investigated the so-called crime scene. The only witness was the woman, so there was no corroboration. Then there was the decision to try Brian as an adult. The public defender did not do an adequate job of contesting “evidence,” not even objecting to the judge when the “deal” was scuttled. DNA evidence was not used because Brian pled “no contest” instead of demanding a jury trial. In addition, the difficulty of obtaining “extraordinary” evidence to reverse the conviction was also highlighted. The empathy of the prosecutor, who had the power to withdraw the offenses, is also tested at a hearing with Kennisha and her mother. The Political Film Society has nominated Brian Banks for best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2019.  MH


A high school student, Preston Walsh (played by Matthew Gerry), is being bullied by another student, Tim Cooper (Curtis Edward Jackson). The bullying is particularly evident in one of his classes, which is taught by James Lewis (David Dastmalchian), who is close to being awarded tenure in the school. Preston befriends Daniela Lopez (Esme Perez), a Latino student who is very shy and also the target of bullying. When Teacher Lewis reports the bully to the vice principal, however, he learns that dealing with the bully might be a black mark on the school, so he should not get too involved. The problem is that Tim’s father Bernard (Kevin Pollak) is rich and an influential member of the community. Nevertheless, Preston retaliates by pointing a camera at Tim while he is pitching for the home team, and more bullying follows. Teacher Lewis tries to intervene, going to the house of Bernard Cooper, contrary to the vice principle’s advice. Directed by Adam Dick, Teacher then descends into noir territory.  MH