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After the 2008 financial crisis that nearly destroyed the world economy, none of the American financial institutions faced prosecutions for their shady dealings that contributed to this debacle, except one. Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a small Chinese-American bank that catered to the neglected market of their community, was indicted on fraud charges and loan falsifications. As the bank disputed these accusations, many in the mainstream news media noticed that far larger competitors appeared to have committed similar misdeeds without legal consequence; likely because they were "too big to fail." This film explores the history of Abacus and its legal battle for survival against this hypocritical, and likely racist, application of the law that seemed to determined to punish them as a scapegoat for crimes that much larger felons deserve to face.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
A really brilliant documentary pitting the US Government against New York's Chinatown
Steve James is a very famous documentarian who was robbed when his master work "Hoop Dreams" was inexplicably ignored by the Oscars in the Best Documentary Feature category in 1994. His later films included "Stevie", "The Interrupters" and the moving record of Roger Ebert's last days, "Life Itself". And now finally the film that brought James his first nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
"Abacus: Small Enough to Jail" is an excellent documentary that centers on the Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a family-owned community bank in Manhattan's Chinatown which became the only bank to actually face criminal charges following the 2007 mortgage crisis - and only because it was deemed not 'too big to fail', an incredible injustice by the U.S. Justice Department merely looking for a scapegoat. But the film is not primarily socio-political; it is, in fact, a 'David vs. Goliath' story of the court battle of the Asian family's defense for their honor against the gigantic U.S. government, and, without shying away from showing the family's internal squabbles and moments of weakness, the film documents the difficult daily sacrifices necessary for them to stand up for their principles.
Perhaps some will find this too much a 'standard' documentary, but I feel the story and characters interesting enough not to necessitate a stylistic 'hyping up', and, as is, the film perfectly captures its time and place while keeping us on the edge of our seats until the final verdict. Critic Matt Zoller praised the director for "finding the universal within the specific", and for the film creating a portrait of Chinatown as a thriving community that "defines itself in relation to...American culture... but never entirely comfortable or accepted." It is also an inspiring film of an immigrant family who struggles to survive through a conflict that they know is virtually impossible over which to prevail - but still they find they cannot submit to what they see as an injustice they did not come to America for. This is a film I truly loved. Don't miss it.
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