County of Conviction: Los Angeles
Convicted of: Rape
Sentence: 6 Years + Lifetime Registered Sex Offender
Years Served: 5 Years, 2 Months
Exonerated: May 24, 2012
Cost of Wrongful Incarceration*: $406,015
*According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office 2018-19 annual costs per CA inmate
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(Photos Courtesy of Heidi Cruise)
Years Served: 5
In 2002, seventeen-year-old Brian Banks was wrongfully convicted of rape. At the time of his conviction, Banks was, by all accounts, a rising football star destined to play in the NFL. Tragically, Banks would never realize his dream of going to college and playing professional football.
Brian Banks’s Wrongful Conviction, Plea Deal, and Exoneration
A high-school acquaintance – Wanetta Gibson – shattered that dream one fateful day after she accused Banks of rape and kidnapping following a consensual sexual encounter on the school campus. It was Banks’ word against hers and she was not likely to change her story. After all, Gibson sued the Long Beach Unified School District claiming the school’s lax security provided an unsafe environment that led to the fraudulent rape. She would eventually receive a settlement of 1.5 million dollars.
Brian Banks was faced with an impossible decision at the time – either fight the charges and risk spending 41 years-to-life in prison, or take a plea deal and spend a little over 5 years of actual prison confinement. Although it would mean destroying his chance to go to college and play football, a lengthy probationary period, and a lifetime of registration as a sex offender, Banks chose the lesser of two evils when he pleaded no contest to the charges.
Nearly a decade after his conviction, Gibson recanted her statements and has acknowledged she fabricated the whole story. The California Innocence Project presented this evidence of Banks’ innocence to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office who launched an investigation into the case. After a thorough review of the evidence, the District Attorney’s Office conceded that Banks was wrongfully convicted.
On Thursday, May 24, 2012, Judge Mark C. Kim of the Los Angeles Superior Court reversed Banks’ conviction and ended his nightmare of wrongful conviction. “There comes a time when you have to let go in order to move on. The only thing I wasn’t going to let go was this fight,” Banks said outside of the courthouse after his exoneration.
His NFL Debut
After the hearing concluded, CIP Director Justin Brooks, in speaking to the press, asked NFL teams to give Brian Banks a chance at football again. “After Brian was exonerated, it was important for me to try and get him somewhat back to his dreams,” Brooks said. Shortly thereafter, Banks received calls from six NFL teams. He tried out with the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, and San Francisco 49ers. Pete Carroll, who had once recruited Brian to play at USC back in 2002, invited Brian to the Seattle Seahawks minicamp to try out. Ultimately, Banks did not get signed by any team in 2012.
On September 20, 2012, Brian Banks signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL. He played in two games and made a tackle on a kickoff return before the UFL suspended it’s season a month later.
On April 3, 2013, the Atlanta Falcons signed Brian Banks and he began participating in the Falcons’ practices and training camp. Banks made his NFL debut in a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He made two tackles in the game. He played three additional games before the Falcons released him on August 30, 2013.
Following the 2013 season, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hired Brian Banks to work in the NFL’s Department of Operations. Banks worked in the NFL’s newly created replay center and also assisted with the league’s social media. Banks worked for the NFL for a few years in New York before getting transferred to Los Angeles. Eventually, he resigned to pursue public speaking opportunities. “If it wasn’t for the California Innocence Project I would n’t have played football, I’d still be a convicted sex offender,” Banks said.
Brian Banks on the Big Screen
In 2017, filming began for a feature film about Brian Banks’ story. The movie, Brian Banks, features Greg Kinnear as Justin Brooks, Aldis Hodge as Banks, and Tiffany Dupont as CIP Attorney Alissa Bjerkhoel. Actors Sherri Shepherd, Morgan Freeman, and Melanie Liburd also star in Brian Banks. Director Tom Shadyac, best known for directing Liar Liar, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Bruce Almighty and The Nutty Professor, directed the film. Doug Atchison, writer of Akeelah and the Bee, wrote the script for Brian Banks. The film closely follows Brian’s road to redemption, including the many legal obstacles he encountered when attempting to gain relief from the courts. While certain aspects have been changed, including the names of some involved in the case, the major story remains the same.
Brian Banks premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF) on September 22, 2018. Tickets to the showing sold out so quickly that a second showing, which also sold out, was scheduled for the following day. The Hollywood Reporter and Variety published glowing reviews of Brian Banks, and it won LAFF’s Audience Award for Fiction Feature Film. “Despite the political minefield that it traverses, this movie deserves to be shown — partly because it will stimulate more dialogue on a controversial subject, and also because it showcases outstanding performances, especially a career-defining portrayal by Aldis Hodge in the title role,” Stephen Farber writes in Hollywood Reporter.
Articles on the film have been published by Sports Illustrated and Deadline. In a review of Brian Banks, the Los Angeles Beat says, “’Brian Banks’ is a complicated and layered story negotiating its way between heartbreak, despair, victories and the absolute conviction that the human spirit can triumph against great odds. It’s a movie that is as moving as it is uplifting and demonstrates we can all accomplish anything if we set our minds to if our heart’s in the right place.”
Brian Banks has appeared on several “must-see” film lists for 2019, including “NPR’s Summer Movie Guide: 26 Films Coming Soon To Theaters,” and The New York Times’ “Summer Movies 2019.” The film even made Variety’s list of 31 films that could enter the 2020 Oscars awards race.
On August 2, 2019, Deadline published another movie review, saying: “Brian Banks, a remarkable true story of pure determination to defeat an unjust justice system, is an inspiring winner just like the real-life man who is Brian Banks.” The full review can be found here.
Brian Banks was released in more than 600 theaters throughout the U.S on August 9, 2019. We hope all of you will see the movie. You can search Fandango to see where the film is playing near you. Check out the Brian Banks movie trailer below:
The California Innocence Project Gets Featured in an Extended Trailer
In July of 2019, Bleecker Street, the studio that distributed Brian Banks in conjunction with Shivhans Pictures, released a featurette of the film before its official premiere. In the video, California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks talks about wrongful convictions, and how what happened to Banks can happen to anyone. “We look for cases that have potential, and that’s what happened when Brian wrote to us when he was in prison,” Brooks says.
Banks himself is also featured in the video. In it, Banks says, “This movie is to raise awareness about the flaws within our judicial system, but this movie is also about inspiring people.” In a Los Angeles Times article, Brian says, “This movie is not only just for me or the California Innocence Project but for the many other people who have experienced wrongful accusations, wrongful convictions or may experience it sometime in the future. This is what it’s like to be picked up off the street for something you didn’t do, and by the time they figure out they’ve made a mistake, 10 years have passed.”
Many of the movie’s cast members also discuss their motivations behind the roles they played. “My job in this film is to honor Brian and his legacy,” says Aldis Hodge. Watch the featurette here:
The California Innocence Project Hosts a San Diego Screening
The California Innocence Project hosted a private screening of Brian Banks at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park on August 3, 2019, prior to the film’s release on August 9. Several of the film’s talent attended, as well as other special guests and supporters of CIP, the CIP staff, and Brian Banks himself.
Many news outlets, including FOX 5 San Diego, KUSI, and the San Diego Union-Tribune covered the event. In an interview with FOX 5 San Diego, CIP Managing Attorney Mike Semanchik discussed how Brian Banks sheds light on America’s guilty plea problem, saying, “This definitely a story about plea bargaining. Ninety-five percent of cases in the U.S. are plea bargain cases, and so a lot of people are pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.”
CIP live-streamed interviews and a Q&A session after the premiere on our Facebook page. During the live-stream, Brian Banks talked about what the California Innocence Project means to him. “They saved my life,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today, we wouldn’t be doing this interview right now.” To watch the video, click here.
Some of the Project’s staff and interns are planning to answer audience questions after the film shows in theaters throughout San Diego County. We will post more information soon here and on our social media channels.
The Cast of Brian Banks Talks About Working on the Film
Many of the actors in the Brian Banks film have shared in interviews what it was like to play a character in a movie about wrongful convictions, and how Banks, as well as the California Innocence Project inspire them. In an interview with CBS Los Angeles, actress Tiffany Dupont talked about playing CIP Staff Attorney Alissa Bjerkhoel. “She was the first person to hear Brian’s story and she brought it back to CIP [California Innocence Project],” Dupont said in the interview. “She said that this guy could actually still have his dreams.”
In July of 2019, Brian Banks and actors Sherri Shepherd and Aldis Hodge attended the 25th annual Essence Festival in New Orleans where they talked about the film. Deadline published an article about the event in which Hodge is quoted as saying, “I knew the film had the potential to be so impactful. I wanted the audience to be inspired by Brian the way I was inspired by his triumph.”
“Brian went through an extraordinarily difficult shadow but came out beaming like the sun,” Director Tom Shadyac says in a Los Angeles Times article.
“It is the kind of film where you’ll drive home and think about how this affects your own life,” actor Greg Kinnear, who plays CIP Director Justin Brooks, said during an interview with Collider Video.
“I think anybody who sees the movie…,” Kinnear said in an interview with CBS, “I don’t think there’s a way in which you can’t feel a passion for trying to get involved in criminal justice reform and trying to really look at what you can do to try to play a part in a system that is — at least when you look at Brian’s case — in need of some examination.”
In an interview with Hot 99.5FM, a radio station based in Jacksonville, FL, actress Sherri Shepherd said Brian Banks “[…] is really a story about how the judicial system failed this young boy for something he did not do.” Shepherd plays Banks’s mother, Leomia Banks, in the film.
Celebrities Support the Brian Banks Film
Many notables in Hollywood and beyond, including Oprah Winfrey, NFL Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders, and journalist Van Jones, showed their support for Brian Banks via social media.
— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) August 9, 2019
All-American football star Brian Banks had his dreams stolen by an unjust system. See his fight to get them back in #BrianBanksMovie – now playing in theaters. Movies like this are important! Get tickets at https://t.co/2pJy6m2oyu pic.twitter.com/B8Iu4hjXYq — Van Jones (@VanJones68) August 8, 2019
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.@NFL Hall-Of-Famer @DeionSanders talks about how deeply #BrianBanksMovie impacted him, and explains why everyone should go see it on FRIDAY! Get tickets today: https://t.co/l6TWBq2GSy pic.twitter.com/SfjuWjeIAe — brianbanksmovie (@brianbanksmovie) August 7, 2019
I had the opportunity to see this film and it touched me deeply so that’s why I’m sharing. A great story of commitment, perseverance, & unwavering faith to prove his innocence. A must see for everyone, especially teenagers… Boys and girls. #BrianBanksMovie #TruthMatters #Xonr8 https://t.co/Ql3idTan02
— Takeo Spikes, M.B.A (@TakeoSpikes51) August 7, 2019
Brian Banks’s Book What Set Me Free
On July 2, 2019, Brian Banks released his memoir, What Set Me Free: A True Story of Wrongful Conviction, a Dream Deferred, and a Man Redeemed. “This powerful memoir is an unflinching portrait of the failings of America’s judicial system, a soul-stirring celebration of the resilience of the human spirit, and an inspiring call to hold fast to our dreams,” the book’s summary says.
What Set Me Free, which was published by Atria Books and co-written by Mark Dagostino, received positive reviews ahead of its official release date. One advance-copy review from Book Anon says, “Truly a remarkable book, and absolutely one anyone interested in the US criminal justice system in particular should read.” A review by a reader on Amazon says, “This book was mesmerizing, horrifying, and ultimately uplifting and exhilarating.” Another reader raved about the book, saying, “The events Brian Banks experienced would have crushed the average person’s soul. His strength and resiliency throughout are an amazing. and inspiring story. Some books you can finish and walk away from, but this story will stay with you for a while.”
Brian Banks Continues to Speak Out
“No man or woman should be in prison for a crime they didn’t commit,” Brian Banks said in a video recorded by the California Innocence Project shortly after his exoneration in 2012. Since then, Banks has advocated for innocence work by bravely sharing his story of wrongful conviction. He regularly speaks about his experience at events to raise awareness and inspire others.
In July of 2019, ComplexCon Chicago hosted Brian Banks and Justice Reform: The Conversation. During the panel discussion, which was moderated by Pierce Simpson, activists Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, DeRay Mckesson, and Brian Banks talked about criminal justice reform, issues with the plea bargain system, and more.
“What I want people to take away from this,” Banks told the Associated Press, “is that what I went through was unacceptable, what many others have gone through is unacceptable.” In an interview with Inside Edition, Banks again emphasized the importance of the film’s message, saying, “I feel that this is a message for people that we can no longer allow innocent people to sit in cages like animals for things that they didn’t do.”
“[I am] continuously advocating for victims of wrongful convictions, people who have […] had to deal with this flawed judicial system,” Banks said in an interview at the San Diego premiere of Brian Banks. “We can’t keep sweeping these types of stories under the rug. We have to make people informed about the flaws within our system in hopes of correcting them.”
If you are interested in booking Brian for a speaking engagement, visit his website at brianbanksnow.com.