In the wake of Ava Duvernay’s series When They See Us debuting on Netflix, the conversation about the need to fix the United States criminal justice system to support black and brown people continues to gain momentum. The new biopic Brian Banks, now in theaters, furthers this discussion by providing another example of a Black man serving time for a crime he did not commit: Brian Banks is named for the former football linebacker who was falsely accused of committing rape.
The real Banks, now 34 years old, was exonerated after being convinced to take a plea bargain initially and thankfully he seems to have his life back. Despite having 11 years stripped away from him, Banks was eventually able to clear his name and fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons. Though he did get to play with the Falcons for four games, he was eventually released from the team. He no longer plays in the NFL, but has found other ways to share his experience and hopefully inspire some change.
Since his exoneration, Banks found a new career path in motivational speaking. In a recent interview with Forbes, Banks said he spends most of his time teaching people about wrongful convictions, as well as promoting his autobiography, What Set Me Free. “I do life-coaching work occasionally with some NFL players and exonerees. I sit on the advisory board of the California Innocence Project, the same firm that helped restore my life,” Banks said. He also added that he is on another advisory board for the National Registry of Exonerations. “So, I’m definitely still in my lane and trying to use my hardship and traumatic experience to turn it around and help other people.”
Banks (played by Aldis Hodge in the film) also worked as an executive producer on the film that examines the most difficult period of his life. He also credits Justin Brooks (played by Greg Kinnear), co-founder of the non-profit California Innocence Project, as having played an instrumental role in helping prove his innocence. The nonprofit’s website includes a quote from Banks: “If it wasn’t for the California Innocence Project I wouldn’t have played football, I’d still be a convicted sex offender.”
During an interview with Good Morning Football, Banks explained what it felt like when he was finally cleared of the rape charge. “It was overwhelming to finally hear the District Attorney’s Office and the judge concede to the matter, saying that I was factually innocent. I remember dropping my head to the table just in happiness, but also just that thought of 'Why? Why did it have to happen and why did it take so long for it to be figured out?'”
These unanswered whys will undoubtedly run through viewers’ minds long after the credits roll on Brian Banks.