‘Equity’ Explores What It’s Like To Be A Woman On Wall Street

I stand in a bar in Soho, margarita in hand, talking to a group of impeccably dressed women. While they work in the high-money world of finance, and I’m a freelance writer, we’re all here for the same thing — a screening of Equity, the first film to explore what it’s like to be a woman on Wall Street.

The fact that, in 2016, we’re just now getting a film about women involved in one of the world’s most powerful financial centers says something not only about Hollywood, but about Wall Street itself — a bit of misogynistic life imitating misogynistic art (and vice versa).

While strides have been made when it comes to gender parity in the finance industry, the numbers remain dire: According to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data from 2013, it’s less than half as likely for a woman than a man to advance from a middle-level to senior-level position in financial services. And while women make up more than half the workforce in the S&P 500’s financial services firms, only 2% are CEOs.

In films about finance, meanwhile, women have also been kept out of the corner office. From Wall Street to The Wolf Of Wall Street to The Big Short, leading roles have inevitably been reserved for men, with women cast in the role of Wife or Sexy Blonde (or both).

Equity, which features three female leads, is seeking to change all that. Since its debut, the film has been described as a “refreshingly female-skewed financial thriller” that “proves that the women of Wall Street can be just as cold-heartedly corrupt as the boys.” It’s a movie that proves women can also love the world of finance, while also subtly revealing the issues they must face. One buzzed-about scene in the film, for example, features a female executive who secretly pours her martini down the drain to conceal a potentially career-threatening pregnancy. Plus, the movie walks the walk: It has a female director, producer, writer, production designer, and costume designer.

I sat down with one of the film’s producers and stars, Alysia Reiner (aka Natalie Figueroa from Orange Is The New Black), to talk about what it was like to work on her production company’s first film.

Jillian Richardson: What made you want to create this project?

Alysia Reiner: First of all, I’d never seen a movie in this world. Sarah Megan Thomas came to me and said, “What about a woman on Wall Street?” And I said no. I found it to be such a misogynistic world, and a world that didn’t really speak to my heart. I only want to make art about things that other people are afraid to talk about. And then I met with a friend, who started this nonprofit, All In Together, which is getting more women into politics — her name is Lauren Leader-Chivée. She consults for Fortune 50 companies. And she started telling me these stories about what it was like to be a woman working in this world, and all of the inequities that are there. And I started talking to actual women who work in this world. And I said, “Oh my God, we have to make this movie. We have to represent these women.” They go through so many challenges on a daily basis.

So I asked, “What if we didn’t just make a super cool financial thriller, but also a stealth bomb social issue film?” Because sometimes it’s easier to talk about the issues in art than in our own lives.

Jillian: Equity premiered on the same day that Hillary Clinton was nominated as the Democratic Presidential Nominee. How did that feel? Did you plan for that?

Alysia: When we were planning, we initially thought, “What if this could come out, right as a woman is running for president?” There was an outrageous amount of blood, sweat, and tears to make that happen. Our timeline was tight. And it definitely helps that the Gods of Feminism were with us. They said, “This is good for Hillary, this is good for women, and this is good for the movie.” As a low-budget film, we knew that if we were part of a national conversation, that would create a lot of free publicity and buzz.

Jillian: Since this film is about money, are you hoping that Equity is going to be really profitable?

Alysia: I’m hoping that it makes a lot of money for a multitude of reasons. One is to show that a movie with three female leads can make a ton of money. Number two is to show that independent film is still alive and well. Our budget was under $3.5 million. We want to prove that you can make a film like that and still make a ton of money. And three, we had a female director and a female writer, and a female production designer and costume designer, and producers. To be able to say, “Look! Women behind the camera is a good bet, too!” is amazing. I want to prove that investing in women in these three ways is a smart move financially.

Jillian: When I was watching the film, I was waiting for an unnecessarily sexy shot of a woman . . . and you never did it!

Alysia: Oh, yeah. We passed the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and there was no gratuitous sex. We thought about having naked men for no reason . . . but we decided not to.

Jillian: What do you think about the Wall Street movie, Working Girl, and its tagline, “A mind for business and a bod for sin”?

Alysia: Yeah, people say that was the last movie about women on Wall Street. But it really wasn’t. It was a great movie, but it was just another romantic comedy. There’s never been an authentic drama about a woman on Wall Street.

Jillian: What has been the reaction to the film, especially from women who are in business themselves?

Alysia Reiner (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Alysia Reiner (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Alysia: I have yet to get a reaction from a woman who does not love this film. Women and men who work on Wall Street recognize themselves in it, and recognize so many truths in it. But honestly, women in so many industries recognize it.

A moment I’ll never forget is from Sundance. Three girls in college came up to me and said, “Oh my God! We’re hashtagging ‘three motherfucking chips!’” [A reference to a quote in the film.] I loved that, because I didn’t know if the movie would speak to millennials.

Jillian: There’s a scene in the movie where someone is looking at their phone, and there’s the Anne-Marie Slaughter article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” What position do you think Equity takes on this?

Alysia: We put that in, last minute, in post. But I’m so glad we did. It’s such an important article. I think the film doesn’t come down on a side around that. Our goal was to present a bunch of discussion topics, and let women have their own experience.

A lot of people start interviews with me with, “You seem like a woman who has it all.” But I work my ass off. There are times when I want to see my daughter, but I have to be working. However, my personal feeling is that we all have it all, if we’re willing to embrace what we have.

Jillian: Okay, last question. What do you hope people take away from the movie?

Alysia: One, I hope people just enjoy a super entertaining thriller. Two, I hope people explore their relationship to their own unconscious biases. And I hope they deconstruct them. And three, I want people to look at their own relationship to money and worth, and how those two things intersect. I’m still grappling with those questions myself.

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Want to get even more of Alysia? She can be seen in Louis C.K.’s new show, Better Things, premiering September 8, and in season four of Masters of Sex, premiering September 11.

This interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarity

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Lead image from movie poster: Facebook

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