It’s been a long 17 years since Brian Banks was wrongfully convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, but seeing his real-life story play out on the big screen is no less bittersweet today. Luckily, for those who watch the newly released movie based on Banks' true story, simply titled Brian Banks, in theaters this weekend, they can rest assured that the Long Beach, California native acted as an executive producer to ensure that the film was as true to life as possible.
“It’s really surreal to have gone through such a traumatic experience … to come full circle and be here now with the opportunity to share this story,” Banks said at the Essence Festival in July, adding that the goal of the film was to “not only to get our story out there but to share this story for other people who are currently voiceless, who are experiencing a similar situation.”
The film, directed by Tom Shadyac, shows how Banks was accused of rape by an acquaintance, Wanetta Gibson, back in high school, and how the repercussions of that false accusation reverberated through the rest of this life, costing him a football scholarship to the University of Southern California and later, a chance at a professional football career.
According to the California Innocence Project, who were instrumental in overturning his conviction, Banks was advised by his legal team at the time to take a plea deal that would grant him a significantly lesser sentence of just over five years, as compared to fighting the charges and risking a sentence of 41 years-to-life in prison. Upon release from prison, he was also required to register as a sex offender.
In addition to chronicling his time behind bars, the biopic also explores the complicated minefield of the legal system, as Banks (Aldis Hodge) seeks the help of California Innocence Project director Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear) to prove his innocence after he’s released from prison. In real life, the CIP initially wasn’t able to take on Banks’ case due to lack of evidence; when Gibson reached out to Banks nearly a decade after the accusation to recant her statements, however, the CIP had the proof they needed to move forward with the case. On May 24, 2012, Banks’ conviction was reversed.
Kinnear, who plays CIP director Brooks, told CBS This Morning that in order to prepare for his role, he actually sat in on several of Brooks’ classes at the California Western School of Law to learn his mannerisms and gain some insight into the man who championed Banks’ case pro bono.
“Usually, when you make a movie, you don’t always have the real-life person to draw on,” he said. “Those Marvel guys can’t look to Captain Amazing. So we were lucky to both have Brian Banks and Justin Brooks there as great assets, telling us exactly how these moments happened.”
And because Banks also acted as an executive producer on the film, both Banks and Brooks were oftentimes on set. And the pay-off is, at least according to CIP, a largely accurate re-telling of the incredible true story. According to the CIP’s website, “While certain aspects have been changed, including the names of some involved in the case, the major story remains the same.”
Banks went on to play for the Las Vegas Locomotives and the Atlanta Falcons and briefly worked for the NFL Department of Operations, but currently spends most of his time focusing on public speaking engagements.