Two wives of Bernard Garrett Sr., the central subject of The Banker, are criticizing Apple’s decision to release the pic in March despite allegations that Garrett’s son — initially billed as a co-producer on the film — molested two girls in the family decades ago.
Linda Garrett and Kathy Ussery Garrett, who were married to Bernard Garrett Sr. in the 1960s and 1990s, respectively, and who are not involved or depicted in The Banker, claim the movie is inaccurate and should be shelved.
“The story was stolen and distorted and it has been hurtful to the family. They have manipulated the narrative,” Linda Garrett’s attorney, Todd Burns of Burns Law in San Diego, tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The Banker stars Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson as Garrett Sr. and Joe Morris, two black men who, in the 1950s and 1960s, hired a white man to front their real estate business. The film was directed by George Nolfi and produced by Joel Viertel, who came across an early script 20 years ago and pitched it to Nolfi in 2009. The Banker was made by Brad Feinstein’s Romulus Entertainment and Apple came on board as distributor last June and was not involved in the development or production of the film.
At the center of the dispute is Bernard Garrett Jr., 64, who has been involved in the project since its gestation. On the eve of the film’s planned Dec. 6 release, Garrett Jr.’s half-sisters from Linda Garrett publicly accused him of sexually abusing them beginning in the early 1970s and asked that the pic not be released. He has denied the claims. In the wake of the allegations, Apple postponed the release indefinitely, saying in a statement: “We, along with the filmmakers, need some time to look into these matters and determine the best next steps.”
But on Thursday, Apple said in a statement, “We wanted to take the time to understand the situation at hand — and after reviewing the information available to us, including documentation of the filmmakers’ research, we’ve decided to make this important and enlightening film available to viewers.” It plans to release The Banker on March 6 in theaters and two weeks later on its AppleTV+ streaming service. Garrett Jr.’s credit as a co-producer has been removed and Apple says he won’t profit from the release. Following the allegations, the attorney for Romulus says the film will be changed to describe it as “based on true events.”
But now Garrett Jr.’s two stepmothers are joining his half-sisters in a quest to convince Apple to change course and shelve the movie forever.
“Bernard Jr. has already been paid for this movie. He should not have been allowed to profit from this,” says Ussery Garrett, who was married to Garrett Sr. when he died in 1999 and helped him with his memoirs. “He was writing his book on big yellow pads and I was typing them up,” she recalls.
The Banker is a major part of Apple’s push into original content, with its initial December theatrical release date designed for Oscar contention. The controversy has been a blow to the tech giant’s film efforts as it is also dealing with fallout from Oprah Winfrey’s decision to remove herself as a producer of the upcoming Russell Simmons documentary On the Record, which was to have aired on AppleTV+.
Apple purchased The Banker from Romulus for a reported $20 million. An attorney for Romulus previously told THR that Garrett Jr. stepped down as a producer in November when Apple was first made aware of the allegations against him. Apple canceled the Nov. 21 AFI Festival premiere of the film a day before the event and delayed the Dec. 6 theatrical release and the pic’s subsequent debut on Apple TV+. On Friday, Linda Garrett told The Hollywood Reporter she will publish an open letter to Apple and the filmmakers asking them to cancel the release.
In her six-page letter, Linda Garrett provides a timeline of events, some of which are in the film, and claims to debunk their accuracy. The timeline includes the years that her daughters, Cynthia and Sheila Garrett, were allegedly “raped” and “molested” by Garrett Jr. beginning when they were 7 and 4 years old, respectively. She told THR her daughters informed her of the abuse in 1980, and Cynthia, now a minister, has been speaking publicly about it for several years and included the claims in a book.
“I am alive,” Linda Garrett says in her letter. “If a tiny bit of interest in the truth existed none of this would have happened. I could have spared the filmmakers millions of dollars — and my daughters years more intentionally inflicted pain — over this recent rape of our identity if anyone had ever tried to find me.”
Apple and reps for the film’s creative team did not respond to THR‘s requests for comment on Friday. But the filmmakers, including Nolfi, Mackie and Jackson, said Thursday in a statement about the movie’s release: “Though we have no way of knowing what may have transpired between Mr. Garrett’s children in the 1970s, including the allegations of abuse we have recently been made aware of, our hearts go out to anyone who has suffered. The film itself is not based on the recollections of any of Bernard Garrett Sr.’s children, but rather on recorded interviews with Bernard Garrett Sr. himself, conducted in 1995, supported by congressional transcripts, court rulings, and other media articles from the era. We stand by the film and its positive message of empowerment.”
Added Apple: “We created Apple TV+ as a home for stories that matter and believe The Banker, inspired by the brave actions of Bernard Garrett Sr. and Joe Morris, two African-American businessmen who brought about positive social change, is one of those stories.”