DIRECTED BY MEERA MENON/2016
Equity is getting noticed not just for being a competent film about corporate greed and betrayal, but because its title doubles as a commentary on an issue that has long plagued Hollywood, and most industries, for far too long. Equity tackles the issue of gender-equality through a story that centers on a senior investment banker named Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) who is seeking to land a client whose security company, Cachet, is about to announce that they are taking their company public.
Controversy follows Naomi, as her last high-profile deal didn’t go well, and her corporate bosses are starting to lose confidence in her abilities. With the help of her assistant, Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas), Naomi seeks to turn her fortunes around. Things just got more complicated as she is reacquainted with an old friend, Samantha (Alysia Reiner), who is investigating security fraud that just might entangle Naomi and those around her.
The story is compelling enough to keep things moving, and to deliver enough tension to keep the audience engaged up to the very last frame. What is even more compelling is just how novel a film like Equity is at a time when it should be the norm. Equity is from a story that Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas, who also star and produce, came up with to make headway in the industry through their production company, Broad Street Pictures (get it?), that tries to find ways to get women in the creative decision making roles in Hollywood. In short, they are trying to bring ‘equity’ to an industry that often celebrates the notion of equality, even if they don’t effectively practice it.
“Equity” is a movie aiming to break the glass ceiling on women’s ambition in the corporate world. If it is successful, it may have a broader effect on the film industry itself.
Sarah and Alysia were able to get Anna Gunn, from Breaking Bad, to star, and also landed a female director, and female financiers to make the project happen. The primary story being told, however, is not one that requires the leads to be female. This is a film that seeks to tell a compelling story first, and be an agenda piece second. If anything, both the story and their desires to move the chains for women everywhere, dovetail together in the story itself as the character of Naomi Bishop exudes the qualities that we’ve seen every male lead exhibit in films about corporate greed, ambition, and questionable morality. Our reaction to this will tell us more about the state of gender equality in our society than the fact that the lead is a female in this role will.
Naomi Bishop doesn’t quite have a Gordon Gekko “Greed is Good” moment that was so memorable in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street, but it doesn’t mean that she isn’t ready to seize the moment. Declaring “Don’t let money be a dirty word. We (as women) can like that too”, the film moves forward seeking to empower, but allows the story to firmly be set in a world that doesn’t always embrace this ethos when it comes from the female perspective.
The film shows clearly the effects of gender politics when it comes to why so many women are kept out of leadership roles despite making up the majority of many industries. It faces down the notion that a woman who wants both a career and a family, must eventually sacrifice one for the other. It also demonstrates sexual gamesmanship, and backstabbing. Equity also wraps things up in a way that reflects this reality, with the hope that women who live in the same corporate culture as the men who embrace this sort of ambition, will not be afraid to declare the reality, that they too desire to succeed, yield power, and (gasp) make lots and lots of money.
Equity is a movie aiming to break the glass ceiling on women’s ambition in the corporate world. If it is successful, it may have a broader effect on the film industry itself. Change only comes to Hollywood when money can be made. There are many films headed by women directors (see Sharon Autenreith’s great series #52filmsbywomen to see more), and who employ female actors, agents, and the like, but we still don’t see true ‘equity’ in the industry. There are signs of welcomed change, however, with Kathleen Kennedy being appointed the head of Lucasfilm, in Disney’s acquisition of the company, and Amy Pascal having served as the head of Sony Pictures. While there is movement, there is still a need for what Broad Street Pictures is setting out to do.
Equity also seeks to to be inclusive to same-sex marriage, showing the struggle that a federal prosecutor has while balancing her marriage and desire to be with her kids, with her desire to bring down the corrupt. The fact that her spouse is a female, isn’t meant to be any different than this same scenario would be portrayed with a heterosexual couple in any other film. But it is clearly included in this story, in this way, to represent the fact that this is still a shocking thing in a year where same-sex marriage is the law of the land.
Equity is not a great film, with this being only the second full-length film from the director, but it is a compelling one, and one that is worthy of a larger conversation, especially within the film industry….or any industry, really. In an election year that may see a woman break the Presidential glass ceiling, this film is landing at an appropriate moment to truly effect the kind of change it is ambitious to bring about. But like the lesson of the film, the true test on whether it will succeed is whether or not it can truly close the deal in the only arena Hollywood really cares about….the box office.