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If Apple had any hopes for a peaceful and scandal-free entry into Hollywood, it seems that those have been dashed right away, with the company’s first actual original feature film, The Banker, now surrounded by allegations of historical inaccuracy and sexual abuse.
On the eve of what was supposed to be a headline-making debut of the new feature film, Apple suddenly and rather unceremoniously pulled it from the roster, ceding the coveted closing night gala spot at the AFI Film Fest to one its rivals, with the Netflix original movie Marriage Story running in its place.
While the original announcement was vague on details, with reports simply suggesting “some concerns surrounding the film” that had come to Apple’s attention, more details have now emerged, and it looks like Apple’s debut film will not be debuting as planned after all.
The Banker was scheduled to arrive in theatres on Dec. 6, as part of Apple’s strategy to bring feature films to the big screen before launching them on its Apple TV+ streaming service. Although last week’s announcement only concerned the film festival premiere, insiders have now told Variety that Apple is delaying the theatrical release while it takes some time to sort through allegations being levied against Bernard Garrett Jr., the son of one of the characters portrayed in the film who also served as co-producer and consultant and helped to promote the film.
The theatrical release delay also means that The Banker won’t be appearing on Apple TV+ as scheduled in January, and in fact at this point the future of the film’s release is entirely uncertain.
Late last week, a woman named Cynthia Garrett, who is apparently the half-sister of Bernard Garrett Jr., claimed that the supposedly true story being portrayed by Apple in the movie didn’t match up to the historical facts of what actually happened.
The movie itself stars Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson as two real-life African American men, Bernard Garrett Sr. (Mackie) and Joe Morris (Jackson), who stealthily built up a real estate and banking empire in the extremely racist South of the 1950s by training a working-class white man to pose as the face of it, while Garrett Sr. and Morris posed as a janitor and chauffeur.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Cynthia Garrett and her sister Sheila, both half-sisters of Bernard Garrett Jr. who are approximately 15 years younger than he is, say that Garrett Jr. sexually molested them over the course of several years.
While it’s unclear when these allegations came to Apple’s attention, The Hollywood Reporter notes that following an on-stage promotional appearance on Nov. 5 with director George Nolfi, Garrett Jr.’s name conspicuously disappeared from publicity materials associated with the film, and further appearances were cancelled in the weeks leading up to the scrubbed AFI Fest premiere.
While this suggests that Apple may have been trying to do damage control early on in an attempt to salvage its plans for the movie, sources close to the production have said that neither Apple nor the filmmakers were aware of the allegations until last week. An attorney for the production company behind the film, Romulus Entertainment, told The Hollywood Reporter that Garrett Jr. stepped down as a producer simply because he wanted to ensure the movie focused on his father’s story and not on him.
Although the allegations don’t specifically implicate anybody portrayed in the film itself — the girls specifically state that their father had no knowledge of the abuse — the fact that Garett Jr. was so closely involved in its production is a black mark for Apple and the studio, even if the co-producer has now distanced himself from the film. However, the sexual abuse allegations were only one of the concerns raised by Cynthia Garrett and her sisters, who also claim that the film doesn’t accurately portray the life of their father, Bernard Garrett Sr.
A Rewritten History
Specifically, the sisters state that the timeline of the film was changed specifically to omit the girls and their mother — Garett Sr.’s second wife — out of the story. Instead, the film features Bernard Jr.’s mother, the first wife of Garrett Sr., even though he had already divorced her by the time some of the events in the film occurred. In essence, the complaint seems to be that the film is pretending that Cynthia Garrett and her sisters simply don’t exist.
Cynthia Garrett formerly worked as an interviewer on MTV and VH1 and is now the head of Cynthia Garrett Ministries, where she speaks publicly to groups around the world, sometimes recounting her years of alleged sexual abuse, which she has also spoken about extensively in private women’s groups, and is currently working on a book outlining her survival.
Ms. Garrett, who contacted Apple via her attorney, is asking the company to cancel the movie entirely, insisting that it’s the fruit of a poisoned tree, not merely a simple historical omission. In an open letter, Cynthia Garrett states “This entire project is poisoned. It’s the fruit of crime, lies and deception.” Garrett says the producers have contacted her “numerous times” offering to show her the film and discuss her concerns, although it doesn’t appear that she has yet agreed to do so.
The film’s producers insist that it’s based on interviews with Garrett Sr. and other materials to which they have obtained legal rights. An attorney for Romulus says that they will be changing the film to describe it as “based on true events” rather than actually reflecting a true story, which could give them a better legal footing should it come to that, although it’s unclear if that will satisfy Cynthia Garrett, who seems to prefer that the movie not exist in any form.
Apple has not yet offered any further comments about the future of the film, beyond what it said last week when it announced the cancellation of its premiere at AFI Fest, which is that it “needs some time to look into these matters and determine the next best steps.”