PITTSBURGH — Storytelling always came naturally for Stan Younger.
He spent most of his formative years in Homewood, Penn Hills and Duquesne, and is still legendary among his childhood friends for yarns he spun when he was 14 or 15. Younger was the kid in the neighborhood who other children went to when they were in trouble with their parents and needed an excuse to save face.
So it was only natural that Younger, now 57 and living in Ambridge, would eventually end up telling stories on a macro scale in the form of movies.
“I thought, maybe someone from the neighborhood should be someone who actually makes one of these things,” he told the Post-Gazette.
His first foray into the world of Hollywood storytelling was writing the feature-length screenplay for last year’s “The Banker,” currently streaming on Apple TV+ and also nominated in four categories at this year’s NAACP Image Awards.
“It’s almost like performing at Madison Square Garden,” Younger said of his screenwriting debut being recognized by the NAACP awards. “It’s just one of those dream things that you don’t think is ever going to happen, and then it happens.”
“The Banker” is based on the real escapades of Bernard Garrett, portrayed by Anthony Mackie, who amassed wealth in ‘50s and ‘60s Los Angeles by playing the country’s racially biased business world like a fiddle, and who attempted to acquire similar power in his home state of Texas by buying banks.
It co-stars Samuel L. Jackson as Garrett’s partner Joe Morris, Nia Long as his wife Eunice and Nicholas Hault as Matt Steiner, the man Bernard and Joe groomed to be the white face of their empire while they pretended to be a lowly janitor and chauffeur.
Younger’s Hollywood journey began when he enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school, eventually reaching the rank of lance corporal. One of the first things he did after reaching his first duty station was purchase an electric typewriter and begin banging out scripts in his spare time.
He got into Carnegie Mellon University as a film student through a combination of his veteran education benefits and sheer force of will. While at CMU, he made some contacts in Los Angeles who helped him get into the prestigious Disney screenwriters internship program.
“What really sparked me in writing was the idea that a working-class kid who grew up in Pittsburgh could with work and determination and sacrifice make things happen,” he said.
Bernard Garrett’s story first appeared on his radar in the mid-’90s through his writing partner David Lewis-Smith, who produced and co-wrote “The Banker.”
The two constructed a narrative around Garrett’s story through eight hours of recorded interviews with him in the few years before his death in 1999, consulting with his son Bernard Garrett Jr. and 400-plus pages of testimony from Bernard Sr.’s appearances before the Senate Investigations Subcommittee in the mid-’60s.
“His message was that knowing financial vocabulary, understanding the financial world and having financial literacy is the key to the advancement of African Americans,” Younger said. “Not social justice legislation, not laws changing. If you can increase the financial literacy of the African American community, that’ll fix 90% of the problems in the community.”
It took more than 25 years, but “The Banker” was finally released in theaters last March and dropped on Apple TV+ shortly after.
It was lost in the shuffle a bit due to the COVID-19 pandemic shortening its theatrical run and mounting controversies surrounding the film, including accusations that Bernard Garrett Jr., a producer on the film, molested half-sisters Cynthia and Sheila Garrett in the ‘70s and disputes about the film’s accuracy from Linda Garrett, one of Bernard Sr.’s ex-wives. Garrett has denied the allegations.
Younger, director George Nolfi and producer-editor Joel Viertel all stand by “The Banker” and hope folks will check it out.
“It’s more accurate in its depiction of how they went about what they did and got the buildings and plowed their money into the Texas stuff than most movies that are based on a true story,” Nolfi said.
Banking on a bright future
Viertel was struck by how “audacious, funny, inventive and subversive” Garrett’s scheme was and believed it was a story that needed to be told for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which was to illuminate an underreported instance in American history of two Black men taking advantage of a system stacked against them.
For Nolfi, who also directed Mackie in the 2011 sci-fi thriller “The Adjustment Bureau,” the goal was to make sure Garrett doesn’t come off as greedy, but rather as a man who, after surveying the options available, “kept his head down, gritted his teeth and pushed through.”
“I wanted to, for once, have African American protagonists be accorded the Hollywood tools that have forever been used with white protagonists,” Nolfi said. “Beautiful cinematography, amazing sets, music, sweeping camerawork that makes these people into heroes.”
Everyone involved believes the movie can be a teaching tool that might inspire young Black men to brush up on their financial literacy. They’ve received overtures to distribute the film more widely for educational purposes from the Philadelphia City Council.
North Braddock councilwoman Lisa Franklin-Robinson, a longtime friend of Younger’s, also believes in the film’s power and potential.
“Pittsburghers can relate to this movie because we had a pretty prominent Black civil rights movement back in the day here that did a lot of great things …,” she said. “It’s not just for Black Pittsburghers. White Pittsburghers also will appreciate the creativity and intelligence of the Black person who overcomes the system.”
Younger thinks the themes of the movie are still worth exploring, especially when they were partially brought to life by a kid from Homewood who always appreciated the value of a good story.
“They’re not only good stories, but they’re informative and instructive,” he said. “The message of ‘The Banker’ is very timely because everybody, whether you’re Black or white, everyone’s talking about the rigged system … being unfair and rigged against the little guy. I think that message is so pertinent right now.”
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