Writing about female leadership in the entertainment world can be very disheartening, given the tough statistics and experiences women share of the challenges they face regarding gender bias. But changes are continually occurring that are shifting viewers’ exposure to compelling, complex, real-life stories of women who are both powerful and fascinating. And women themselves (along with visionary male leaders) are doing what’s necessary to elevate women’s roles and leadership, both behind the camera, and in front of it.
Sony Pictures Classics’ new release Equity in theaters now is a prime example. Focusing on women on Wall Street, it’s a Wall Street drama, but not the conventional story of corruption, crime, or catastrophe. It highlights the challenges and intriguing insider experiences of women who thrive on competition and ambition, deals and strategy, but who must carefully calibrate every aspect of their lives to stay equal in the game.
Directed, written, produced, and financed by women, Equity is a collaboration among women in entertainment and business leaders in finance—the real-life women of Wall Street—who chose to invest in this film because they wanted to see their story told. An official Selection of the Sundance Film Festival 2016 Tribeca Film Festival 2016, the film is about a female investment banker, fighting to rise to the top of the corporate ladder at a competitive Wall Street firm, navigating a controversial tech IPO in the post-financial crisis world.
Kathy Caprino: Why is this a significant development in the entertainment field, the first female-driven Wall Street Film written, directed and produced by women? What does this signify?
Alysia Reiner: To me, it was simply a mandate: be the change you want to see. Let’s stop talking and just do it . I have no idea what anything signifies; I just know that the statistics about women being represented in our industry are, quite frankly, disgusting. So if I’m going to produce, if I’m going to be the one hiring, you can be sure I am going to hire more women than men.
Sarah Megan Thomas: We have never seen the Wall Street world from a female perspective and it is about time. And for this film, it is wonderful that so many women were involved in front of and behind the camera (including the amazing women in our investor group).
Caprino: How are women portrayed in this film that makes it an important statement?
Reiner: They are complex. They are real. They are diverse. They are not stereotypical. And they pass the Bechdel test with flying colors. We should win a Bechdel award!
Thomas: The three lead women in this film are all complex characters — at times “likeable” and at times less “likeable” but always interesting. We tried to show women in situations you maybe haven’t seen before — for example, with my character, Erin, who is pregnant, we see her in an ultrasound scene where she is not 100% happy at hearing her child’s heartbeat for the first time because she is ambitious and has mixed feelings about how the pregnancy will affect her career.
Caprino: What are you hoping this film will pave the way for, going forward?
Reiner: May it inspire, encourage, and empower other women (and men) to put more women in front of and behind the camera.
Thomas: I hope that, like Equity, there are many more films that are written, directed, produced and starring women.
Caprino: As female producers of feature films, what challenges have you faced and overcome in the industry that you believe your male producer colleagues don’t?
Reiner: I think sometimes — like our Wall Street characters — we are underestimated. As a successful actress, sometimes I feel like people can’t believe that I am a very savvy business woman as well. I hate being treated like a stereotypically stupid actress. I was a biopsychology major at Vassar. I know my math and science. I made many a spread sheet and, gasp, even learned to present a PowerPoint to sell this movie to our investors. And those investors were mainly women, and by the way, they made a profit, because investing in women is actually a great investment.
Thomas: I think the challenge is more as a female creator/producer/actress — women who do all these things together. There are many men who wear all these hats (and do it well) and they are celebrated for their visions. Sometimes we are more critical of women who both produce and act, and I hope we can equally celebrate women as storytellers and encourage more female actresses to produce and create. This will inherently help bring more female driven content to the big screen.
Caprino: What do you think holds other female producers back from succeeding at a higher level, and what needs to be done to pave the way for more women leaders and forerunners in entertainment?
Reiner: I think the number one thing is fear. It’s scary to make your own movie, to start from scratch. And you get so many “no’s” before you get to the “yes.” It takes a lot of fortitude and courage, persistence and perseverance. And it takes a lot of the very technical term: what I call “get-back-up-ness.” And working together, supporting each other: find your tribe. It’s impossible alone; we really do it together.
Thomas: In general, I think women tend to internalize their “failures” more than men, when something doesn’t work out as well as planned. It is challenging to make an independent film because you don’t have money to solve problems that naturally arise over the course of making a film. Sometimes films work and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work on a project, the film doesn’t resonate with an audience as much as you would like. Women producers need to have more opportunities to “swing at the bat” so to speak because not every film will be a home run — and that’s okay — that is part of the process.
Caprino: What advice do you give the younger female producers whom you mentor? Who mentored you along the way (if anyone)?
Reiner: My advice is: Don’t wait. Create. Massive action from right mind. As for a mentor, I’m still looking for one… know anyone?
Thomas: Just do it! Find a story you are passionate about that you think others would be passionate about and make it on any scale.
With technology there are so many ways to create on various budget levels and the best way to learn how to produce us to get in the trenches and do it!
Caprino: What’s your ultimate personal vision for your professional future? (i.e. what’s your “mission” in your work)?
Reiner: To tell stories that make the world a better place, stories that other people may be afraid to tell. I want to tell stories that make people think, talk, go deeper, and really grow.
Thomas: As an actress, I want to act in films and TV series with complex female roles that explore all sides of humanity. As a producer, I want to continue to produce commercial stories that we haven’t seen on screen before that just happen to have strong women in front of and behind the camera.
For more information, visit sonyclassics.com/equity.
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