Co-writer Niceole R. Levy brings an intersectional feminist perspective to an already progressive story. The Banker brings up uncomfortable realities of race, gender, and class, by telling the story of two men who acted as Robin Hoods for many black Americans during the Jim Crow era. (GPG: 4/5).
Review by Contributing Editor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
If you’ve ever wished The Wolf of Wall Street had more likable characters so you could watch it without feeling bad about rooting for them, The Banker is a film you might want to check out. This is the true story of real-life Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) and Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), two black men who bought up real estate investments and banks with the goal of redistributing that wealth back to the black community. Garrett and Morris recruited a white man, Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult), to pose as the head of an investment group so that they could get white people to sell the property to them. Using this strategy, they start an investment empire that allows them to sell homes to black people in white neighborhoods that were red-lined by most real estate companies and make loans to black people who would otherwise not be approved by white bankers.
Any movie involving the economy needs a way to help everyday viewers understand how money even works, so I was glad that Steiner ends up getting a crash course in real estate finance from Garrett. In an amusing montage, Steiner has to learn everything he’ll need to make real estate financiers think he’s one of them, which is basically golf and the math of negotiating real estate deals. The “training montage” intercuts Hoult struggling to learn long division with him at a country club shooting rather pathetic golf shots (or drives, or whatever they call it when they hit the ball with the stick in this particular sport). Hoult’s character, Matt Steiner, is comical in many ways, though the way that sticks out to me most is that he only agreed to do this because a hot waitress who believed he was in real estate seemed attracted to him for his success. The waitress goes on to be his wife and seems to play a key role in most of Steiner’s bad decisions, though in general the character’s wish to distinguish himself and his inept attempts to do so make you feel sorry for him rather than making you hate him per se. I don’t know; maybe that’s just because I’m white.
One fascinating part of The Banker is that these men are working within the system of capitalism to achieve a fundamentally anti-capitalist goal. Since the federal government has shown at every period of American history that it has very little concern for black Americans, Garrett and Morris understood that they would not be able to achieve what they wanted through protest or political agitation. The solution was to take the wealth their communities had been prevented from earning, using a white man as a front to steal economic opportunity directly from their oppressors. It’s a delicious irony that the very white Southerners enforcing Jim Crow laws were the very ones whose bank accounts were financing the loans being given to black families to start businesses and buy houses. If that’s not direct action, I don’t know what is.
The writing in The Banker also gives a spotlight to Garrett’s wife “Eunice” (Nia Long), who reminds both Garrett and Steiner that women’s rights are a thing too. Eunice is the classic great woman behind the great man, and I’m guessing that she gets the sizable part she does because of Niceole R. Levy’s work on the script. Since the only other significant female character is Steiner’s wife, who doesn’t have much of a part and is more on the bad guy side than anything else, this is refreshing!
The results of Garrett and Morris’s work were to significantly integrate housing in Los Angeles, and to change many individual lives in Texas and California. The end credits, as in every true story biopic, tell us about how everything worked out in the end; unfortunately, these two men’s work was largely undone by racism. However, their story is if anything more inspiring for that, since it reminds us that it’s still important to fight for what’s right even if you’re up against unbeatable odds.
Does The Banker pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
Yes, though on a technicality! There is a scene where Eunice is approached by a prospective renter for one of Garrett’s properties, and the two women briefly speak about the woman and her husband arranging a viewing for the apartment. This is two lines or so, but it counts.
Top Photo: Garrett and Morris negotiating.
Middle Photo: Garrett and Morris after a big deal.
Bottom Photo: Garrett and Morris at a country club.
Photo Credit: Romulus Entertainment.