19 June 2024
John Boyega stars in Breaking out in UK on Digital 27th March 2023

Breaking: What Happened to Brian Brown-Easley?

Breaking tells the real-life story of Brian Brown-Easley, a former veteran so failed by systemic injustice and incompetence, he ends up holding a bank hostage to demand the benefits payments he is owed – just $892. To mark the UK release of this film, we will take a look inside the real-life story, from the original incident at the bank, the resulting press coverage, and what impact the film has had on the real people and institutions involved.

Who was Brian Brown-Easley?
Born 1983 in Williamstown, New Jersey, the youngest of 8 children, Brian Brown-Easley signed up as a Marine at 18 years old. Serving in Kuwait and Iraq, he rose to the rank of Lance Corporal and received honourable discharge in 2005. He married and had a daughter, but his life became plagued

Brian Brown-Easley
Image Credit: History vs Hollywood, Breaking

by mental health issues. Diagnosed with PTSD, he also suffered from schizophrenia and paranoia; this led to a spate of disappearances, as well as stays in mental hospitals and non-profit housing facilities. At the time of the incident, Brown-Easley was staying in a $25-a-night hotel, scraping by on a disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What happened in the bank?
In July 2017, Brown-Easley did not receive his usual disability benefits payment, leaving him unable to pay rent, and severely vulnerable to homelessness. After calling the crisis line and visiting the regional office, his issue remained unresolved. A few days later, he entered a Wells Fargo bank, claiming to have a bomb. He took two employees hostage, then called 911 to inform the authorities, and a local news station, WSB-TV, to explain his predicament – he demanded his $892 benefits payment from the VA. He was put through to a negotiator, also a former Marine, who talked him into giving up a hostage. Just as Brown-Easley was about to do so, a police sniper shot and killed him.

The Task and Purpose Blog Post
Task & Purpose is an online publication covering stories about the United States Armed Forces and the defence industry. In 2018, they published an article by Aaron Gell, a regular contributing reporter, detailing Brown-Easley’s story. He interviewed Easley’s family members and fellow Marines, officers of the Cobb County Police Department, Veterans Affairs officials, community activists, and experts in law enforcement, mental health, and military transition. Through these conversations, he found “a [complex] story… involving the failure of the nation’s safety net; VA policies better designed to exploit former warriors than to assist them; a confused police response; and maybe an undercurrent of racial bias.”

John Boyega in Breaking out to own in UK 27th March

Breaking – behind-the-scenes
Abi Damaris Corbin, a Boston-based director of short films, discovered Gell’s article; it “broke [her] heart”, reminding her of her veteran father’s struggles with the VA and inspired her to create a feature film based on what happened to Brown-Easley. She enlisted Kwame Kwei-Armah, a British actor, playwright, and director, to co-write the script. In preparation, they interviewed people who were there on the day of the incident. They also spoke to Brian’s ex-wife, gaining her approval of the film, and listened to the transcripts of the 9-1-1 operators.

What happened after the movie?
Breaking ends with the statement that Brown-Easley’s family never received the $892 owed to him. Gell’s investigation revealed Brown-Easley was likely denied this payment because of his failure to attend enough classes while studying on a Veterans’ tuition grant. This resulted in him losing eligibility for this grant. Although the VA did not consider the fact Brown-Easley was suffering from severe mental health issues during this assessment of his eligibility. However, after the article and the feature film, there seems to be no real push to make institutional changes to the VA, allowing them to recognise the full array of complex factors of a case like Brown Easley’s.


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