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Banking on strong ideals, ‘Equity’ never cashes out

Thursday 20th, October 2016 / 12:00
By Jennie Orton

VANCOUVER — Billed as a movie that stars women, made by women, and mostly financed by women, Equity hopes to muscle its way into the male-dominated genre of Wall Street dramas and give a voice to the women who have bulldozed their way to corner offices in the buildings that tower over the Bowling Green Bull and his often fondled bronze balls. This is an idea that is long overdue; unfortunately we are going to have to wait a bit longer for it.

There is an idea of a powerful woman, one that grows cold with ambition, losing her femininity and appeal in exchange for power and success; both of which she is not allowed to admit wanting or enjoying. This character belies the ultimate survival instinct and desire for status we all have, regardless of gender, as mammals scurrying around in a high-tech maze of our own design. This thesis is one that deserves exploration, but few folks are doing the work required to get it right. Far too often stunts like reversed roles and propaganda in place of information are employed by those trying to make a point, and they lose the audience to that rhetoric almost every time. Equity gets every single thing wrong about this practice and does so with a shocking disinterest in doing any homework of any kind.

Equity is the film equivalent of Community’s Britta Perry; it knows there is an injustice at play, it knows it’s mad about it, but it really doesn’t want to do too much about it aside from reading a pamphlet and shouting into a bullhorn. From almost the very first scene you get that pit in your stomach that happens when you realize you’ve been bamboozled into sitting down for a terrible sales pitch. Sitting through this movie was like attending a timeshare sales meeting in order to get a free piña colada; and in the end, they stiff you on the rum anyway.

The film follows Naomi, played with an earnest attempt at depth by Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn. You can tell Naomi is ambitious because her apartment is amazing, she eats alone, and she has the low-maintenance lone wolf pet all true go-getters have: a Siamese fighting fish. Get it? She’s a fighter, and there is only room in her tank for one. Siiiiigh.

Naomi is a senior investment banker and a self-professed lover of money. During a panel discussion for women in business near the beginning of the film, she espouses the right women should have to be aggressive and strive for success. At that point, even though the writing is starting to show its short-sightedness, you say a soft “fuck yeah” at the thought of this manifesting before your eyes on film for once.

You will be disappointed.

Naomi is banking, so to speak, on the IPO of a tech company offering iron clad security and privacy for social media. It’s apparently going to revolutionize the tech world by providing a hacker-proof platform. She and her VP, played with complete obliviousness by Sarah Megan Thomas, charm the cartoonishly smarmy CEO and promise him the world if he trusts them with his company. And that’s where things start to unravel; not just for Naomi but for everyone sitting uncomfortably in the darkened theatres across the land.

There are films that are poorly researched and poorly written released on a constant basis; there always have been. And to scrutinize these films too deeply is an exercise in futility, as they aren’t usually being put on any pedestals. Equity is different though; they are marketing themselves as a voice for women and in that respect this woman was paying attention. This is a time when we need the voices of women in art, especially when those voices are attempting to relay the real fact that there are women out there who are exceptional at their jobs who deserve recognition of both the financial and personal kind. Screenwriter Amy Fox ironically employs none of those women when trying to take a stand. The Big Short was a bro show, no doubt about it, but it knew its shit. And there are women out there who know theirs: hire them. Isn’t that the point? No one will hire them as experts? Allow me to explain:

From a banking standpoint, none of the characters behave in a way that allows for success in that industry. The characters will engage in incredibly careless acts of sabotage and insider trading that will all but guarantee jail time in the real world. To suggest these people got off scot free using loud and careless tricks in an age where the world is taking that industry to task at the slightest slip-up is soapy nonsense. Why not chat with Ellen Costello, President and CEO of Harris Financial and learn a bit about the journey and the pitfalls from the woman you are essentially attempting to write?

When a hacker explains the hole in the software Naomi has banked on, yet seemingly has no real knowledge of, she explains, incorrectly, the idea of “middle-man attacks.” In a world where women have to fight countless roadblocks and stigmas just to be taken seriously in the world of tech and software development, why have a female hacker deliver incorrect information on screen? Why not talk to Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and all-around titan of tech, and get some information so you appear informed when you are making your point. This may sound like I am looking too far into this, but you can’t just assume the role of activist if you don’t do your homework.

There is an unfortunate reality in this world of people who are just waiting for a woman to be mistaken about something she is passionate about. If you have ever witnessed a woman who, for example, is into sports have a man at a neighbouring table begin quizzing her relentlessly in an attempt to out her as an impostor, you know of the struggle to be taken seriously. And that is what this movie proposes to be about. But it comes up short by devolving into a melodrama about women who don’t do their homework, have tantrums over missed promotions, risk their careers when they find out their boss is mean to them behind their backs, and freak the actual fuck out when they don’t get the right number of chocolate chips in their cookie (that is a real thing that happened in this movie and I am giving it the benefit of the doubt that the scene had different subtext than what appears to be obvious). Meanwhile the men in the story are either smarmy villains with barely any ability to not look like rapists, or completely emasculated reversed gender role wives; neither of these tropes lend any insight to the male perspective other than to incite rage amongst the female viewers. And I am sorry, but I like to think we deserve more credit than that. Establishing balance and equality is impossible if both sides paint each other with broad and blinded brush strokes. This isn’t capture the flag.

As the issues of sexism and equality of gender reach fever pitch levels of both urgency and saturation, the male-dominated arenas of the world become targets of a sort of re-writing for the future. Thanks to the eternal availability of information at our fingertips, it has become nearly impossible for most industries and systems to continue to deny the double standards, glass ceilings, and imbalance that exist in not only compensation but expectation when it comes to women in the workplace. Attempting to get a seat at the big table when making 30 per cent less per year than everyone else there can be a frustrating situation, one that really does need examination. You can see by the ham-handed title (Equity means both being fair and impartial as well as the financial value of one’s shares) the attempt is being made to aspire to a world where women can be just as ruthless as men and have it pay off. Unfortunately this movie stops short of committing to either and instead vomits a sophomoric, closed-minded, blunt reality with no ability to see the delicacies in the message they are attempting to explore or the people they are seeking to empower; which are characteristics you often see heaped on men during arguments in this context. So I guess in that respect, Meera Menon was successful in her attempt to rule in a man’s world. Well done, bro.

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