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A Wall Street Woman Seeks ‘Equity’

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A LACK OF HUMAN CAPITAL LIMITS REAL NARRATIVE GAINS

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

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Anna Gunn as Naomi Bishop in ‘Equity’

The old adage warns us that time is money, and in large part, that holds true. Fortunes can rise and fall in a matter of seconds, and films devoted to the world of finance offer us a glimpse into scenarios that we, average working people, would not be privy to in any meaningful way, beyond cable news discussions of bank failures and reports of multi-million-dollar compensation packages for executives. J.C. Chandor tightened the screws in “Margin Call,” his 2011 financial thriller that zeroed in on several key players at an investment back, during the early stages of the 2008 economic crisis by tracking the action over a 24-hour period, where as each and every second ticked away you felt capital gains slipping away. With so little time to spare, I walked away from the movie wondering, “Who were these fast-talking characters?”

“Equity,” from director Meera Menon (“Farah Goes Bang”) and screenwriter Amy Fox (“Heights”), loosen the reins on the clock – with the action unfolding over a week – as senior banker Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) prepares a tech client for public trading, while scandal and corruption swirl around her. Although extremely business-minded in its focus, “Equity” seeks to inject human drama into the mix, with Bishop juggling several key interpersonal relationships – Michael Connor (James Purefoy), a lover working in another division of the firm with his own agenda, her protégé Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas) seeking to stake her own claim, and Samantha (Alysia Reiner), a college associate who reappears in her life and happens to be a hungry prosecutor investigating her firm.

The point here is for us to see how Naomi is supposed to represent a game-changing perspective in the finance game. Early on, during an alumni panel discussion for young women interested in banking, she attempts to break a stereotype about women and money. The assumption is that men, as the more competitive sex, can and should be motivated by, if not by greed, then the status conferred by generating the most money. But Naomi, smiling hungrily, tells her audience that there is nothing wrong with wanting money and the trappings of success. She seems to be saying that greed can and should be good for women, too.

And when we see her away from the panel and the office, with Michael where she indulges in sex with equal abandon and desire for control, we’re encouraged to appreciate that in this arena, as well, women should be able to play and win, just like men. This is the natural path for the sexual and gender revolution, right?

But “Equity” shows us just how much further we must go to achieve this perfect capitalistic and social dream. The media and upper-level management at Naomi’s firm constantly remind her of a past miscue with a public trading opening for a tech client of hers, rooted in concerns about what she wore and how her abrasiveness rubbed some of the players the wrong way. She recognizes this as coded language demeaning her, while similar “aggression” from a male counterpart would have been considered positive.

It is in contrasting Naomi with Erin and Samantha that we see just how insidious the game is in forcing women to square off against one another. Naomi learns, as her new client nears his public opening, that Erin is pregnant, and finds herself questioning whether or not she can support Erin’s advancement. This sets up a bit of a cat-and-mouse dynamic that festers, with each woman maneuvering to get ahead by any means necessary. With Naomi and Samantha, the conflict concerns questions of insider trading, loyalty, and just what they are individually willing to do to master the game.

By making Naomi the focus, “Equity” misses out on the opportunity to delve more deeply into the lives of the other women, illustrating how and why their situations and choices might have commented on Naomi’s assertion about women and money. The contrasts were powerful, but never truly elevated to the point where their examples might have told us something about the social and systemic impact of women acting like men.

What was needed here was more time with these women in their experiences beyond the financial realm. Such immersion could result in sex and melodrama, but the potential also exists for “Equity” to spotlight the human losses and gains, more plainly than flashier hot commodities like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Big Short,” which felt like glorified celebrations of the same-old winner take all scenario.

Who’s got time for that?

EQUITY Rating: [R] Grade: C+

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