Issa Rae Is Producing a Film About Tanya Smith, a Black Girl Who Outwitted the FBI and the U.S. Banking System

Issa Rae during February 2020 - New York Fashion Week: The Shows on February 10, 2020, in New York City.
Issa Rae during February 2020 - New York Fashion Week: The Shows on February 10, 2020, in New York City.
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows (Getty Images)

The Issa Rae machine won’t stop, y’all!

Speaking of machines, Rae’s latest project involves teaming up with David Heyman to produce a feature film adaptation of Tanya Smith’s upcoming memoir, The Ghost in the Machine. Smith will executive produce the film.


Deadline breaks down the fascinating story:

The memoir tells Smith’s unbelievable story— of how a middle-class Black girl from the North Side of Minneapolis would, in the words of the FBI, “become one of the single biggest threats to the entire United States banking system.” The film will follow her extraordinary story of creating a sophisticated wire fraud scheme and outwitting the FBI and prosecutors, who underestimated her intelligence for years, before her life ultimately fell apart, leading to two prison escapes and finally serving 13 years of a 24-year sentence – at the time, the longest sentence handed down to any white-collar criminal.

I did a little more digging via Justia U.S. Law and it looks like the upcoming memoir is related to the case of United States of America, Plaintiff-appellee, v. Tamara Jo Smith, Defendant-appellant, 869 F.2d 348 (7th Cir. 1989), which confirms that Tanya wasn’t alone in the scheme—it also involved her identical twin sister, Tamara Jo Smith.

The case document continues:

The two women were indicted and tried together. Because identity was a core dispute at trial, the government called a spectrographic voice identification expert to testify. The original voice identification expert, who prepared the spectrograms at issue here, was unable to testify at the last minute. The expert who testified was a substitute who was called in for the trial. Tamara challenges this expert testimony. She protests the use of spectrographic voice identification testimony in general, alleging that it is not generally accepted by the scientific community. She also contends that admission of the substitute expert’s testimony violated her rights under the confrontation clause. If the person who actually prepared the spectrograms had been present to testify, Smith argues, she would have been able to discredit his qualifications and to establish that several trials in which his mentors had testified had been reversed because of the voice identification testimony.

Tamara Smith also contends that she should have been tried separately from her sister Tanya. She argues that trying them together caused her undue prejudice.

Whew, the plot thickens! The document also notes that friends could usually tell Tanya apart from Tamara Jo due to the small scar on Tanya’s forehead. No word yet on whether the film will delve into that particular part of the case, but it certainly does insert more complications and raises the stakes much higher. At the moment, what we do know is that Tanya’s memoir “will chronicle her rise and fall and share how she finally came to terms with her past and rebuilt her life.”

Either way, I’m intrigued by both the book and the film, so sign me the hell up!

The Ghost in the Machine is set to be published in 2021.

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Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.



I’m still waiting on the Lupita N’Yongo/Rhianna movie where Lupita is the computer nerd who works with Rhianna the badass to pull heists.