Alysia Reiner, Anna Gunn and Sarah Megan Thomas of Equity (Robin Holland/Sony Pictures Classics)
“There are no parallels,” Anna Gunn jokes about comparisons between the treatment of women in Wall Street and women in Hollywood. “I think they’re quite obvious. Equal pay is something talked about across the board for women, and something that we wanted to explore. We got very lucky in a way that the Sony hacks happened when they did, because they showed the truth about the disparity. It’s exciting to see how Robin Wright said that she wasn’t coming back to ‘House of Cards’ until she was paid equal to the man.”
Gunn, best known for her Emmy-winning role as Skyler White in “Breaking Bad,” has her first leading feature role in Equity, in which she plays a high-powered Wall Street executive who must deal with the sexism inherent in America’s most-reviled industry. True to its feminist lean, the film is dominated by women both in front of and behind the camera, including producers Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner, who also play major roles supporting Gunn, and director Meera Menon. Reiner further cites the work of Candy Straight, who executive produced the film and made its creation possible.
“Candy exemplifies what true mentorship is. She put her money where her mouth was, invested in us and opened her Rolodex for other women to invest in us,” she says. “She taught me what true mentorship is. I’ve been looking for a mentor for a very long time and have asked women I’ve admired who weren’t able to do it. She taught me that I am committed to being a mentor to other women.”
It was this sense of mentorship that brought Menon to the project. According to Reiner, “We found Meera because I asked an amazing man, ‘Tell me the one woman that you think is going to win an Academy Award that we don’t know yet.’”
Equity is only Menon’s second feature, and she attests to the sexism that she has felt throughout her career.
“As a woman in this business, you have to work twice as hard to get half as far. Fifty percent of film school graduates are women, and more of the men got representation out of film school for their crappy film shorts,” she jokes. “These guys get ahead because they find mentor figures who see themselves in the young guys in baseball caps. There aren’t many women in the top who have been doing this for decades who would do this for young women.”
For Gunn, what she found compelling about Equity was the experiences of women in Wall Street and how their experiences mirrored her own.
“I found it fascinating talking to the women who were kind enough to share their experiences because so many of them fed into this movie and shaped the story. Listening to them talking about how to massage a room and walk that thin line between being tough and being soft. The same thing occurs when you’re navigating your behavior on a Hollywood set. It’s a line that men don’t have to think about.”
Each of the three major actresses in the film is a mother, and that also fed into their differentiating between men’s and women’s experiences in Hollywood and on Wall Street.
“It’s not to say that men don’t worry about this,” Gunn says, “but as a woman, there’s a gender situation where women really feel guilty when they are working the kind of jobs on set. You’re working 16-hour days and your kids are waiting at home, and I think that wears more heavily on women than men.”
Sarah Megan Thomas concurs with Gunn, citing the experiences she learned from so many women on Wall Street. “We put a pregnancy into this because so many women told us they had to hide their pregnancies in 2015 until they got to a certain level. It’s something that men don’t have to deal with in their working lives.”
Reiner compares it to the situation of stewardesses in the early days of the airline industry. “Many of the women we interviewed were fired because they’re pregnant. I was reading an article about women in the workforce, and when stewardess positions were created, they were all fired at age 32. This was in the ’60s, and it just was. That’s where we come from, and this is what needs to change.”
The sexism that the characters face in Equity and on Wall Street in real-life may not be as blatant as what happened to stewardesses in the “Mad Men” era, but it still persists. Reiner tells about one of the film’s investors, a very established woman on Wall Street. “One of the things that she said to us when we started was that she wasn’t going to leave the industry until it changes, and she’s still there.”
Equity releases in theaters July 29.