Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas on Money, Power and Strong Women in Equity
I really, really like money.
So says Gordon Gecko. Or is it the Wolf of Wall Street? Or another pin-striped financial figure with thick carpet under his feet and a view of Manhattan from his glass penthouse?
In fact, the admission comes from Naomi Bishop, a woman banker and that star of a new film, Equity, which aims to put the spotlight on women in Wall Street. Just for the record, she also has the carpet and penthouse.
The sight of Naomi, played by Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn, leaning forward in the first few minutes of the film and telling her adversary Samantha that she ‘really, really likes money’ is shocking for both its honesty, but also because – she’s a woman. Are women really supposed to even think such things, let alone publicly confess them?
“And that’s what’s supposed to be shocking,” agrees Alysia Reiner, best known as Natalie in Orange as the New Black, but now playing Samantha, a district attorney working long hours for little pay – but she loves her job.
“Money doesn’t have to be a dirty word,” she adds. “Not for women – yet it is. We talk about sex all the time with our friends, so why not money and power? Why is it so terrible for a woman to say she loves money? I think we were curious enough about the topic to make a film about it.”
“Money doesn't have to be a dirty word,” she adds. “Not for women - yet it is. We talk about sex all the time with our friends, so why not money and power?"
Alysia was approached a few years ago by actress and producer, Sarah Megan Thomas, who takes up the part of the ambitious – and pregnant – Erin in the film, Naomi Bishop’s underling.
“She had this idea of a woman on Wall Street,” Alysia recalls, “and of course we hadn’t seen many of them – I can recall Demi Moore on Margin Call – but I wasn’t interested. We had had our blood, sweat and tears movie on Wall Street with Gordon Gecko reappearing and the Wolf of Wall Street as well, I felt. But now it’s a different world. Women entrepreneurs are in the Fortune 500 and they’re at the top of the big banks and the workplaces. At the same time, we started talking about the lack of equality in the workplace, and the pay gap. Sarah and I said to each other, we need to do this, we are compelled; we need to incite change.”
Having said that, Equity isn’t an issue film. Once you’ve got used to seeing the role reversal of James Purefoy’s role asageing lothario Michael relegated to the male femme fatale – “he loved it!” screeches Alysia at this point – it’s possible for audiences to settle down, look at all three main characters – Erin, Samantha and Naomi – and think – I don’t like any of these women very much.
“Exactly!” says Alysia with triumph. “We want people to enjoy the ride of the thriller more than anything. Women often don’t help other women, we want that up on screen. We don’t want heroines, we don’t want villains, we don’t want good and bad, we just want complicated. Real characters. Erin is pregnant in the movie; it happens. It’s not a film about her losing her job because of it, but it’s a real life dilemma for some and it needs to be put up there on screen. It’s tough when someone is trying to have it all.”
Erin’s pregnancy, and her desire to achieve something before it puts her out of the game, is the only female-only problem of Equity. The sexism – that a female banker might be seen as an easy sexual target by a male client, and the old boys network that can, by its very nature, only admit other penises to their club – is shown, but not stressed. There’s no suggestion that Naomi Bishop might earn less than a male counterpart. It is yet another dodgy double-dealing greedy financier story, which just happens to have women in the lead roles – that is Equity’s USP.
"There's no suggestions that Naomi Bishop might earn less than a male counterpart. It is yet another dodgy double dealing greedy financier story, which just happens to have women in the lead roles - that is Equity's USP."
Sarah Megan Thomas explains that her husband worked in finance, with the Lehman Brothers, for five years, and it not only shaped her idea, but gave her insight into the world. “ I was a Wall Street wife,” she laughs, adding that she “met so many women who were smart and brilliant during that period of our life. I can’t believe how smart and brilliant they all were. There’s a grey line when you work in the banking industry, it’s murky what you have to cross in order to achieve within it.”
In fact, Equity ended up being privately funded by women bankers working on Wall Street; a case, Sarah Megan says, of “them putting their money where their mouth is. And you know, for us too – we’ve put our money where our mouths are. We used a woman writer, Amy Fox, and we hired a female director (Meera Menon, who directed indie Farah Goes Bang in 2015) because we firstly want to make a great film, but we also want to see equality on screen. We don’t want to whine or moan about it, we just want to help make it happen.”
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