Screenshot from The Banker

The power of editing; thoughts on “The Banker” (USA, 2020, 2 hr)

The banker could and should appeal to so many different kind of people: 

  • Those who believe in the rugged individualism myth – as this is a story of a person who had a goal and accomplished it through perseverance.
  • Those who enjoy the aesthetic of the 1950’s material culture – as it has beautiful cars, stylish clothes, magnificent buildings and interiors, objects of many kind stunningly shot.
  • Those who are poor – as it can give them hope that it is possible to rise above if you are hardworking and talented.
  • Those who are against racism – as it shows the triumph of an African-American man against systemic racism, although he doesn’t always prevail.
  • Those who enjoy learning about history – as this movie very much is based on a true story even if it took editorial liberties.
  • Feminists – as it shows strong female characters, although it doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test.

I belong to more than one of those groups above, so I really liked the movie. After I watched it I looked at its IMDB page and the word “agitprop” jumped at me. If you are not familiar with IMDB let me tell you that each movie can have “plot keywords” that are added by users, although they need to be approved by an editorial team. When I was watching the movie I was totally absorbed in it and didn’t check my own predisposed biases. As soon as I saw that this movie is considered agitprop by at least some people reminded me that there are lots of other people who are racists, even if they don’t consider themselves as such. 

For those who believe that African-American people are less smart or less hardworking than “white folks” this movie must have looked like one giant lie, or propaganda to disseminate a false picture. This reminded me to check in my own biases (which is quite the opposite) and learn more about how accurate the movie is and what if anything was edited out from the storyline to make the heroes more spotless. I learned about the controversy around the film. Bernard Garrett, the main character’s son, who was involved in making the film, was in the credits and was supposed to help marketing it too was accused of sexual molestation. 

“Garrett Jr.’s half-sisters, roughly 15 years his junior, have recently made Apple aware of their claim that when he was a young man living in their home, he sexually molested them over the course of a few years. The sisters made the claim in connection with separate allegations that the timeline of the film was tweaked in order to leave the girls and their mother out of the story and instead feature Bernard Garrett Sr.’s first wife, even though he had already divorced her by the time of some of the events depicted in the film.” (Hollywood Reporter)

It is important to note that it is not the hero of the film, but his son, who was accused of wrongdoing. This controversy caused the film’s delay at the first time and then the pandemic made most movies’ release more difficult. Hence Apple TV, released it finally two weeks ago on its own streaming platform. So back to the question of the film itself. This article on History.com about the real historical figure behind the movie suggests that most of the story is historically accurate. So I am sure there were lots of editorial decisions; the major plotline follows the events of real life. I also understand that those who were close to Garrett may see any minor change as a historical distortion. I also understand that if his son indeed is a molester, seeing him getting elevated would cause extra pain to his victims. None of this makes the movie, taken on its own, a less than a thoroughly enjoyable inspirational story and experience.

Official site, Wikipedia page, IMDB: “In the 1960s two African-American entrepreneurs hire a working-class white man to pretend to be the head of their business empire while they pose as a janitor and chauffeur.”

Reviews: Forbes, The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter, The Mercury News, The New York Times, RogerEbert.com Variety

Trailer:

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