All Research

Brian Banks: History vs. Hollywood

Aldis Hodge
Born: September 20, 1986
Onslow County, North Carolina, USA
Brian Banks
Born: July 24, 1985
Birthplace: Los Angeles County, California, USA
Greg Kinnear
Born: June 17, 1963
Logansport, Indiana, USA
Justin Brooks
Born: June 17, 1965

Founder of the California Innocence Project
Sherri Shepherd
Born: April 22, 1967
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Leomia Myers

Mother of Brian Banks
Xosha Roquemore
Born: December 11, 1984
Los Angeles, California, USA
Wanetta Gibson
Born: abt 1987
Birthplace: USA

Accuser, Renamed Kennisha Rice in the Movie
Monique Grant
Wanda Rhodes
Born: August 20, 1960

Mother of Wanetta Gibson
Tiffany Dupont
Born: March 22, 1981
Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
Alissa Bjerkhoel
Born: April 19, 1982
Birthplace: Reno, Nevada, USA

California Innocence Project Attorney

Questioning the Story:

Was Brian Banks really an All-American high school football star headed toward the NFL?

Yes. The Brian Banks true story reveals that he was 11th in the nation as a linebacker when he played for Long Beach Poly High School. He played alongside future NFL stars DeSean Jackson, Darnell Bing, Winston Justice and Marcedes Lewis. Banks was recruited by almost every Division I college in the nation and had given a verbal commitment to USC, where he was set to play on a full scholarship.

Brian Banks (left) during his time as an All-American high school football player at Long Beach Poly High School. Aldis Hodge (right) in the movie

Was the female accuser's name changed for the movie?

Yes. Brian Banks' accuser's name was indeed fictionalized for the movie. The real-life Kennisha Rice (portrayed by Xosha Roquemore) is Wanetta Gibson. The change was made for legal reasons.

What were the details surrounding Wanetta Gibson's accusations?

In June 2002, Wanetta Gibson, 15, accused junior Brian Banks, 16, then a standout football player at Long Beach Poly High, of dragging her into a stairwell and raping her. The alleged incident happened just before lunchtime at their school. Banks denied any wrongdoing. "We met, hugged, started talking and agreed to go to an area on our campus that was known as a make-out area," he said. "We kissed, we touched, we made out, but we didn't have sex." A teacher interrupted the pair as they were kissing and making out heavily, and they parted in different directions.

"We don't really know what the truth really is as to why she lied," he said. "I never really got a clear reason." Banks thinks that maybe she was worried that her older sister, who went to the same high school, would find out she made out with him and tell their mother. He has also wondered if she was worried he was going to brag to his friends. Or perhaps a school security guard saw her leaving the stairwell where she was making out with him, and the guard inquired as to what she was doing and whether she was a willing participant. Depending on her answer, maybe the guard told her she'd been raped.

In truth, she could have made the accusation for any number of reasons. Banks doesn't believe that she thought his punishment would be as severe, probably thinking he'd just be suspended. "I was being arrested and accused of kidnapping and rape," Banks recalled. "I was taken into custody that same day and the judge put a bail on me that was too high for me to post bond. It was over $1 million." Banks spent a year in juvy before it came time for his case to be heard. -Daily News

Was there any evidence of rape?

No. Brian Banks DNA was not found on accuser Wanetta Gibson or her clothing, nor was there any other evidence found to support Gibson's claims. The he-said, she-said evidence was flimsy at best and hardly reliable.

Did Brian Banks' mom sell their house and her car to pay for his lawyer?

Yes. According to Brian, this is true. "My mom actually paid for this lawyer by selling her house and selling her car," he says. "Literally giving up everything to pay for this lawyer. And from day one, our lawyer just wanted me to plea out to some form of a deal." -California Innocence Project

Left: The real Brian Banks is pictured with his mom Leomia Myers during his time as an Atlanta Falcon.  Right: Actors Aldis Hodge and Sherri Shepherd as Brian and his mother in the movie. Photo: Brian Banks Facebook

Did Brian Banks admit guilt and take a plea deal?

Yes. According to Banks, who was 17 at the time and being tried as an adult, he believed the plea deal was the less risky choice. This was at the urging of his attorney, who was hoping Banks would get probation, not the maximum of six years.

"My lawyer pulled me into an interview room the day of jury selection at the courtroom building. And she sat me down with this huge grin on her face as I sat on the other side of the glass, and she began to tell me that she just came up with this amazing deal with the District Attorney's office," Banks recalled in an Innocence Project Interview. "And that deal was that if I pled no contest to one count of sexual assault that I would undergo what's called a 90-day observation at Chino State Prison." She assured him that after the 90 days, the counselors and psychologists would give him a favorable report and the judge would agree to give him probation.

His lawyer continued, telling him, "But if you walk in there right now and you start selecting a jury, I can guarantee you that you're going to select a jury that's going to end up being an all-white jury, and they're going to find you guilty because you're a big black teenager."

"Those weren't my words," says Banks. "Those were my attorney's words that were spoken to me at the age of 17."

"Do I plead to a crime that I did not commit and receive a small sentence, or do I roll the dice, risk my entire life behind bars for a crime I didn't commit?" If Brian Banks didn't take the deal, the true story confirms that he was facing a potential sentence of 41 years to life in prison if found guilty (California Innocence Project). He had just 10 minutes to make the decision and said he wasn't permitted to speak to his mom. He was told there was no time. -Daily News

Brian Banks tells his story in his 2019 book What Set Me Free.

Did Brian Banks' accuser, Wanetta Gibson, sue the school district?

Yes. Wanetta and her mom sued the Long Beach Unified School District, citing that the school's lax security had created an unsafe environment that allowed the rape to happen. The district settled the lawsuit and paid Wanetta $1.5 million. Wanetta and her mother, Wanda Rhodes, reportedly spent the money on at least three cars (an Altima with "great rims," a Suburban and a Dodge), in addition to big-screen TVs and various other items.

Did Wanetta's mother, Wanda Rhodes, concoct the lawsuit as a way to get money?

In researching the Brian Banks true story, we learned that this is what both Banks and his lawyers believe. Attorney Alissa Bjerkhoel with the California Innocence Project believes that Wanetta's mother, who has a rap sheet herself, was behind the entire thing. "She was put up to this by her mother; [Wanetta] was only a teenager at the time."

Is Morgan Freeman's character based on a real person?

Yes. Morgan Freeman's character is based on a teacher Brian encountered at Juvenile Hall by the name of Jerome Johnson, who became a mentor to Brian. In the film, he tells Brian (Aldis Hodge), "your despair can become a doorway" and that "all you can control in life is how you respond to life." This is in line with what he told Brian in real life.

"He opened my eyes," Brian said. "He challenged my mind in a way that had never been challenged before. I had a good upbringing. But these were things that were foreign to me. All it took was that person to introduce me to thinking who 'the real you' is." -Yahoo Sport

Freeman's role in the film is uncredited; a likely result of the sexual harassment claims made against the actor prior to the movie's release.

How long did Brian Banks spend in prison?

Convicted of rape in 2002, Banks spent five years and two months in prison, in addition to five years of high-custody parole, during which time he was required to wear a GPS tracking device on his ankle. He also had to register as a sex offender, which significantly hurt his chances of finding a job.

An image of the real Brian Banks (left) next to an image of his onscreen counterpart, Aldis Hodge, in the film.

Is Brian Banks' love interest in the movie, Karina, based on a real person?

In the movie, Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge) meets a personal trainer named Karina (Melanie Liburd) at the gym. A romance ensues and he comes to learn that she is herself a survivor of sexual assault. She is at first shocked when he reveals that he was accused of rape, but she comes to believe in his innocence and helps him clear his name. Karina seems to be very loosely based on a woman Brian dated at the time of his exoneration. He never mentions her by name in the book, nor is it stated that she had been sexually assaulted in the past. What is accurate about the movie's portrayal of their relationship is the difficulty Brian faced when dating in general. He had to explain his case and show potential girlfriends the paperwork and negative DNA test in order to convince them that he was innocent.

Brian eventually married a woman named Emanuela Marinova in May 2015. They were together less than two years before divorcing (TMZ). At the end of 2018, Brian was in a serious relationship that produced a son, O'rion King Banks, in late January 2019.

Did Brian Banks' accuser, Wanetta Gibson, contact him on Facebook?

Yes. In real life, the woman who accused Banks of raping her, Wanetta Gibson, attempted to reach out to him in 2011 by sending him a friend request on Facebook. He didn't accept her request. Instead, he replied with a direct message, "Why would you friend request me?" he asked. Gibson said she wanted to let "bygones be bygones," writing that she was immature back then. She suggested they hang out. "I'd love to see you," she said. "I've seen your picture on Facebook. You look real good. I would love to hook up." Not only did Banks' parole agreement forbid him from having contact with her, she was the last person he'd want to see. -Daily News

Did Brian Banks risk his parole in an effort to meet with his accuser to get her to confess?

Yes. According to the true story, he hired a friend's father who was a private investigator, hoping he could get a confession recorded. Brian set up a lunch-hour meeting with Wanetta at the investigator's office, lying to her and telling her it was where he worked. The investigator monitored the conversation from another room via a hidden camera and microphone. Brian explained to Wanetta the grave effect her accusation had on his life. She agreed to come back another day to talk to the investigator.

When the investigator asked Wanetta if Brian had raped her, she responded, "Of course not. If he raped me, I wouldn't be here right now. We were just young and having a good time, being curious, then all these other people got involved and blew it out of proportion." Brian took the recording to the California Innocence Project, who agreed to take his case and appeal it. The Innocence Project presented Brian Banks' case to the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, who thoroughly reviewed it and agreed that he had been wrongfully convicted. In 2012, Judge Mark C. Kim, the same Los Angeles Superior Court judge who had sentenced him to six years in prison, took less than a minute to dismiss his conviction and clear his name. The judge offered Brian no apology for a justice system that had failed him. -California Innocence Project

The co-founder of the California Innocence Project, Justin Brooks (left), and his team helped Brian with his exoneration. Greg Kinnear (right) plays Brooks in the movie.

Does Wanetta Gibson stand by her confession?

No. Following her confession that was caught on tape, Wanetta Gibson told CBS2 News that Banks had offered her a $10,000 bribe to confess and that he really did rape her. Banks said that the accusation of bribery makes no sense because he only had a dollar and some change left to his name.

Did Brian Banks fulfill his dream of making it to the NFL?

Yes. Upon his exoneration, California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks requested before the press that NFL teams give Banks a chance again. Coach Pete Carroll, who Banks was supposed to play for at USC after high school, had become the coach of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. Carroll phoned Banks and invited him to Seattle for a tryout the day after all the charges against him were dropped. However, Banks had been away from the game for 10 years. Too much time had passed. He tried out and got invited back to camp, but they didn't sign him. He subsequently tried out with the Vikings, Eagles, Chiefs, Falcons, Chargers and 49ers. No one put him on their roster.

Coach Carroll noted that it was evident he had missed the physical development a player gets as a college athlete. "He missed the opportunity to hone his physical and mental skills as it relates to football, but his competitiveness shined through and he battled so hard for that chance, and did a phenomenal job with his opportunity," said Carroll.

Banks played linebacker and special teams for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League until the league folded in 2012 after Banks had played just two regular season games. The Falcons asked him to tryout again in 2013, and he played in all four preseason games, fulfilling his dream of playing in the NFL. He was let go when the roster was finalized. At just 28 years old, his hope of becoming an NFL star was over. -Daily News

"I will not be pursuing the NFL as an athlete this coming season," he said in a March 11, 2014 Facebook post. "Although it is my dream, it is not my life. I set out to accomplish one thing: become an NFL athlete. And I did that. I never put a stipulation on how much I would play, how long I would play.. I just wanted to play. And I did!"

Actor Aldis Hodge (left) and the real Brian Banks (right) on the set of the movie.

Did Brian Banks ever get to be part of the NFL in any other capacity?

Yes. Despite not making it on the field, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hired Banks to work in the NFL's front office in New York in the Department of Operations. One of Banks' roles was to help out in the officiating department analyzing replays on game days. He also assisted with the league's social media campaign. After spending two years at the offices in New York, he was transferred to Los Angeles. The NFL believed that Banks had a powerful message that might resonate with some of the players. Though Banks considered the job a fulfillment of his dream to be part of the NFL, he too believes he has a strong message to share and he has since resigned from the NFL to pursue public speaking opportunities. His career as a public speaker will undoubtedly flourish after the release of his book and the movie about his life.

Did the school district ever sue Wanetta Gibson to get the $1.5 million back?

Yes. After Wanetta Gibson confessed to making up the accusations, the Long Beach Unified School District eventually sued to get their money back from Gibson's lawsuit, including lawyer's fees and punitive damages. They sued Gibson for $2.6 million and won the judgment. However, it's not money that they will likely ever see. Gibson went into hiding and never showed at any of her court dates. It is believed that not only did Gibson and her mother, Wanda Rhodes, spend all of the money, their cars have been repossessed and they have had to sell most of the items they bought.

Why didn't Brian Banks press charges against Wanetta Gibson for her false accusation?

"The statute of limitations was expired for perjury," Banks told theGrio. "I would have absolutely pressed charges against her if I could. Part of my life was taken away because of her. But more importantly, you have to go after people like this because a person such as herself makes it harder for a woman who is raped to come forward confidently and share their story and hope something is done about what happened to them. They should be able to expect to be believed."

Brian Banks Interview & Accuser Confession

Learn more about the Brian Banks true story by watching the interview with him below. Then view the confession of his accuser, Wanetta Gibson.