Women are intensifying their runs at all sorts of glass ceilings: in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and--perhaps most effectively--the White House.

A new film opening this week tries to encompass them all.

"On the night of our Tribeca Film Festival premier Hillary [Clinton] won New York--and she's going to accept the Democratic nomination the day before our wide release," laughs Alysia Reiner, a star and producer of the financial thriller Equity. The movie opens Friday, a day after Clinton will formally accept her historic nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

"That was always our plan, hooking into that conversation about a woman becoming president," adds Reiner. "It's a stealth-bomb social-issue film."

Electoral politics is one of the few leadership topics not directly addressed by Equity. Produced by Reiner and co-star Sarah Megan Thomas; screenwritten by Amy Fox and directed by Meera Menon; largely financed by women; and, crucially, giving all of its meaty, morally-ambiguous starring roles to women, Equity is a rebuke to all of Hollywood's high-profile prejudice against employing women in front of and behind the camera.

"It's the first female-driven Wall Street movie. We wanted to hook into that debate that's going on in the film industry right now," Thomas said in a joint interview with Reiner. "Our world in entertainment is very similar to the world of Wall Street." 

Their film is also just a fun, smart thriller. Gender aside, Equity tells an ambitious and nuanced story about the business world, post-financial crisis and mid-tech bubble, with a plot revolving around the IPO of a soaring Silicon Valley tech startup. Equity's main character, a high-profile investment banker played by Anna Gunn, wins the startup's IPO business--but still can't get a promotion at her bank, because she "rubs people the wrong way," her male boss tells her.

Meanwhile, Gunn's younger assistant is angling for her own promotion while hiding a pregnancy. Played by Thomas, she spends the film navigating the success--and the perils--of helping to win the business of the tech-bro CEO. "When he hits on you ... be professional, and handle him very gently," Gunn advises.

Some of the other topics Equity takes on in its 100 minutes: Wall Street white-collar crime; the widespread online-privacy slippage in the era of social media; and the rise of cybercrime and data breaches of the likes suffered by Sony, which is distributing the film.

"There are so many issues around privacy right now--we wanted to make sure that as the movie comes out, it's not stuck in the past," says Thomas.

The movie is unquestionably smart about gender in the workplace, and all of the remaining barriers to Leading While Female--although not quite in the obvious, lady-empowerment way that I expected. The three women protagonists all shade into morally dubious territory, with men filling the bland roles of househusbands, petty villains, and hommes fatales. Equity also has a sense of humor about small professional realities; one early scene depicts one of those ubiquitous women's networking group panels, in which accomplished professionals with expensive hair gamely field earnest questions about How To Get Ahead.

Thomas and Reiner sold the distribution rights for their film to Sony Pictures Classics for $3.5 million. They won't talk about how much money they made on the deal; but, like their film's main character, they're happy to revel about having landed a successful deal. 

"We made a profit; it was a good offer, all the investors recouped," Thomas says, adding: "Our investors did better than [they would have] investing in many hedge funds in 2015."

 

Published on: Jul 28, 2016