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Two Black Investors Dominate Real Estate and Make History in Apple TV’s ‘The Banker’ – Review

Few things in life confuse me more than economics, so I applaud anybody who does understand and helps others to. Bernard Garrett and Joe Morris not only understood the market but thrived in it, and with their success they gave back to the African American community. The Apple TV+ original movie The Banker tells the true story of how these two Black entrepreneurs dominated real estate market in the 1950’s and 1960’s through unusual and necessary means – a white man.

The Banker centers around Garrett (Anthony Mackie), a genius mathematician with big aspirations, as he forces his way into the market and teams up with equally gifted banker Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), and an eager Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult). While it’s certainly a factor in mid-twentieth century America, Steiner’s white skin isn’t what separates him from the group; the man knows next to nothing about math, let alone real estate. Garrett and Morris both know that the white-dominated market won’t let two Black men make it into the big leagues, no matter how smart they are, so they make sure Steiner’s face is the only one the market does business with. However, this is easier said than done.

The Banker' review: Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson star in a ...
From left to right: Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult), Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), and Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie). (Courtesy of Apple TV+).

In just a few weeks, they have to teach Steiner everything they know about math, real estate, and—because Morris guarantees all rich white men know the sport—golf. Perhaps the funniest scenes in the film are when we see Steiner struggle with golf just as much as he struggles with algebra. It’s an honest laugh though. Most people, including yours truly, suck at both math and golf. The movie doesn’t hold back on the jargon by feeling the need to explain, so Steiner isn’t the only one who’s confused and overwhelmed.

Soon enough, he proves himself worthy of the task. He doesn’t learn the math; he just memorizes the numbers like a script. The trio gets their well-deserved success in Los Angeles, buying out property and leasing it to Black people who wouldn’t’ve gotten the chance if the property was owned by white people.

It’s only when Garrett wants to venture further into his home state of Texas and Steiner wants to get an equal cut in the profit that things escalate. It’s in the early 1960s at this point, years before the Civil Rights Act was signed, and racial tensions are peaking as activists like Dr. King are getting more coverage. America is slowly awakening and Black people are given hope, but the racists just won’t quit. They won’t let the Black community do well in the south like they did in LA, so they do everything they can to expose the trio and use every unjust law in the book to put them down. What follows is a trial that will make history.

Melvin I. Belli, right, a San Francisco lawyer, reads a statement for his weeping client, Bernard S. Garrett, in an appearance before the Senate Investigations Subcommittee in Washington, April 1, 1965. Garrett broke down on the witness stand while trying to explain his role in a real estate mortgage deal blamed for the collapse of a Marlin, Texas bank.
Bernard Garrett (left) and his lawyer, Melvin I. Belli (right) before the Senate Investigations Subcommittee in Washington, DC on April 1, 1965. Three years before the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was signed. (Photo credit: Henry Griffin/AP Photo).

The Banker does a remarkable job highlighting how privilege shapes the world but doesn’t define character. The most privileged character is Steiner, a white male, and while he has his own set of skills and knowledge, he’s not nearly as smart as Garrett or Morris. Out of the three, Morris is the only one who was born into wealth; he didn’t have to work as hard as Garrett to get that status. Beyond that, Garrett’s wife, Eunice (Nia Long), also has an entrepreneurial spirit and knows the market well. But because she’s a Black woman, she’s stuck behind Garrett’s shadow while Garrett is stuck behind Steiner’s. The actors all do a fantastic job of portraying these power dynamics. They show off their chemistry by acting as equals in one scene, but quickly going into a hierarchy in the next.

My only issue is that the movie tends to focus more on the plot rather than its characters. It’s understandable because there’s more plot than character development in the real world, but I found myself just not caring about the characters personally. I cared about what they were doing and what was being done to them, but I couldn’t bring myself to care about how it made them feel. Despite this, The Banker had a long story to tell and did so with maturity and grace.

I recommend watching it if you can. If you’re still not sure it’s your speed, you can watch the trailer here and decide for yourself. If you’ve already seen it, let me know what you think in the comments down below!

The Banker is available for streaming exclusively on Apple TV +.

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