ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL

4 ½ stars

If you knew that there was only one bank to be indicted on mortgage fraud related to the 2008 financial crisis which one would you guess? Would you be surprised at all to learn that that it was a tiny family-run bank serving New York City’s Chinese immigrant community? This brilliant documentary tells the story of Thomas Sung, who started a bank to support his community. Other banks would take Chinese immigrant’s deposits but deny them loans. Sung had built up his small bank by being a community leader; he would know that a restauranteur was good to repay a loan, because he ate at the restaurant himself.

When his bank becomes the target of an ambitious District Attorney, determined to punish a bank, any bank, to stand in for the Wall St giants that went unprosecuted (those ‘too big to fail’), his wife and four daughters rally around him. Two of his daughters work for the bank, the third is a successful Manhattan doctor, the fourth, incredibly, is an Assistant District Attorney in the same office bringing the prosecution (spoiler alert: she quits). What makes this an amazing documentary is its focus on the Sung family and their struggle, while bringing a human face to the issue of the mortgages at the center of the crisis. As their defense attorney puts it at one point: if all the banks had paid as much attention to their underwriting as Abacus, there wouldn’t have been a 2008 financial crisis!

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