The Great Recession, caused by the mortgage crisis of 2008, was a whirlwind of economic agony that has cast a pall over the world of banking ever since. To add insult to injury, not one of its capitalist architects, sitting behind executive desks in the United States’ most powerful banks, ever faced prosecution for the blatant fraud and criminality that led to the worst stock-market crash since the 1920s. The reason for these de facto pardons? The banks were “too big to fail.”
As a resentful populace picked up the pieces of the housing market, one small, family-owned bank in New York City’s Chinatown suddenly found itself something of a pariah. Abacus Federal Savings Bank primarily serves the Chinese immigrant community and has a mostly sterling record for helping new citizens and their families purchase homes and get their finances on the right track. But in 2012, after Abacus reported an employee it had fired for laundering money and stealing from customers, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office set its sights on the Sung family, who had run the bank since their father founded it in 1984. In essence, Abacus was “small enough to jail.”
Produced by FRONTLINE, this new documentary from filmmaker Steve James (HOOP DREAMS, LIFE ITSELF) follows the Sung family through their five-year legal battle as they fight to clear their name and preserve the Abacus institution. Emotional, personal, and political, James’s documentary resonates with the same empathy that drove his 1990s inner-city basketball opus HOOP DREAMS to canonical status.