On Nov. 5, Bernard Garrett Jr. was onstage at an entertainment industry event with George Nolfi, who directed the new Apple original movie The Banker. The film tells the story of Garrett Jr.’s. father, a black man who recruited a white man to front his growing financial business some six decades ago in a pre-Civil Rights Act America. Garrett Jr., initially billed as a co-producer of The Banker, was supposed to be one of its faces, along with stars Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie, during the film’s press tour.
Since the Nov. 5 event, though, Garrett Jr.’s credit has disappeared from publicity materials, further appearances have been canceled, and on Wednesday the film's Thursday night AFI Film Festival premiere was scrapped by Apple.
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.
One of the sisters, Cynthia Garrett, has been speaking privately with women’s groups about her abuse claims and named a relative in her 2016 self-published book. She is also authoring a new book outlining her survival, which is due from Salem/Regnery Books next year. Apple was informed of Cynthia Garrett’s concerns via an attorney who asked that the tech giant shelve the movie.
Apple declined to comment on the specifics of Cynthia Garrett’s claims. In a statement Wednesday announcing the cancellation of the premiere, the company said, "We purchased The Banker earlier this year as we were moved by the film's entertaining and educational story about social change and financial literacy. Last week some concerns surrounding the film were brought to our attention. We, along with the filmmakers, need some time to look into these matters and determine the best next steps."
Apple has a lot riding on The Banker, which is set to be released theatrically Dec. 6 and is getting an awards-season push. The following month, it will debut on the new Apple TV+ service, which is vying for prominence amid the streaming wars.
Garrett Jr. and Nolfi did not respond to requests for comment. Sources close to The Banker say neither Apple nor the filmmakers were aware of the allegations against Garrett Jr. until about a week ago; the company bought the film in July after it was already completed. An attorney for producer Romulus Entertainment tells The Hollywood Reporter that Garrett Jr. stepped down as a producer recently to avoid taking attention away from his father's story.
At the Nov. 5 event, staged by the website IndieWire, Nolfi recounted how producer Joel Viertel came across an early draft of the script 20 years ago and pitched it in 2009 to both him and Mackie, who plays Garrett Sr. The film is said to be based on hours of interviews with the late Garrett Sr., as well as his life rights and court documents.
Cynthia Garrett, formerly an interviewer on MTV and VH1 who has since founded Cynthia Garrett Ministries and has spoken publicly to groups worldwide, sometimes recounting her years of alleged sexual abuse, says she is hoping that Hollywood rallies around her cause in the midst of the #MeToo movement. She also says that the shift of the timeline in the film is no small matter. “This entire project is poisoned. It’s the fruit of crime, lies and deception,” she writes in an open letter that she says she plans to publish online. The rep for producers counters that the film is based on the Garrett Sr. interviews and other materials to which it obtained legal rights.
The girls say the abuse began in the early 1970s without their father’s knowledge, shortly after Garrett Sr. returned home from prison and the family lived in Glendora, California. His son by Eunice Garrett was invited to live in their home.
Cynthia Garrett says she and her sister, Sheila Garrett, kept their abuse secret for a decade, even from each other, until her parents divorced and one day in the early 1980s her half-brother visited her mother’s home when all three were still living there. When her younger sister refused to leave her bedroom to greet him, Cynthia Garrett inquired as to why, and her accusations spilled forth. Realizing that day that both of them had been abused, they confided in their mother, Linda, who backs up her daughter's account of that day. A few years later, Sheila Garrett says she told her father, too, of the abuse. “He kind of, basically, swept it under the rug. And when I got married, I told my father I did not want Bernard Jr. there, so my father didn’t come to my wedding,” Sheila Garrett recalls.
Cynthia Garrett says producers of The Banker have contacted her numerous times in recent days, offering to show her the film and discuss her concerns. The attorney for Romulus says the film will be changed to describe it as "based on true events."