"When you’re surrounded by darkness, your light often is dim. It’s up to you to bring that light back to power," Banks says

By Nigel Smith
August 08, 2019 09:00 AM
Bethany Mollenkof

The true story behind Brian Banks, a new acclaimed drama starring Aldis Hodge and Greg Kinnear, is just as harrowing as the film.

At 16, Banks was an all-star middle linebacker at Long Beach Polytechnic High School in California with dreams of playing for the National Football League and a full scholarship to the University of Southern California.

His life would soon come to a tragic halt.

During summer school before his senior year, Banks took a break from class to make a phone call. He ran into an acquaintance, sophomore Wanetta Gibson, then 15. They had a consensual make-out session in a stairwell that never resulted in sex, according to Banks. But Gibson told a classmate she’d been raped by Banks. (According to a study done by the FBI, only 8 percent of rape accusations are determined to be false after investigation.) Despite the lack of any DNA evidence, Banks faced the risk of being sentenced to 41 years to life in prison, and his lawyer advised him to take a plea deal.

Banks pleaded no contest to one count of forcible rape, which landed him with a six year prison sentence and another five of probation.

For more about Brian Banks, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.

Brian Banks playing for the Atlanta Falcons
Brian Banks

RELATED: High School Football Team Surprises Boy for His Birthday After Only 1 of His Friends RSVPsHe was released five years later and had to register as a sex offender. Upon being released, Banks tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue he had to contend with “public judgment and misdirected fear from people who think that you’re some form of a monster.”

To his shock, Gibson sent him a Facebook request in 2011, prompting Banks to ask her to meet — and confess to lying. With a private investigator present, she did just that.

In 2012 a judge overturned Banks’s conviction — and he finally realized his dream of joining the NFL, playing four preseason games with the Atlanta Falcons in 2013 and later finding work with the NFL Department of Operations.

“What I’ve come to know about myself is just remarkable. When you’re surrounded by darkness, your light often is dim, says Banks, who wrote the memoir What Set Me Free chronicling his horrific experience. He adds, “It’s up to you to bring that light back to power.”

Brian Banks opens Aug. 9.