Indian American director Meera Menon, director of “Equity,” a refreshingly female-centric thriller set in Wall Street, was released from Sony Pictures Classics on July 29 in Los Angeles and New York, and on September 2 nationwide. Equity is breaking down the barriers and defying stereotypes about women on Wall Street and how.
The premise of the film, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is this: A female investment banker (Anna Gunn), fighting to rise to the top of the corporate ladder at a competitive Wall Street firm, navigates a controversial tech IPO in the post-financial crisis world, where loyalties are suspect, regulations are tight, but pressure to bring in “big money” remains high.
In Equity, a new thriller about female executives working on Wall Street, it’s okay for women to be ambitious and like money. The brainchild of Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner, who produced and starred in the film alongside two-time Emmy winner Anna Gunn, the film was largely the result of interviews with — and financing from — roughly two-dozen powerful current and former Wall Street women. Together with screenwriter Amy Fox and director Meera Menon, Equity also fielded an all-female creative team.
The 100-minute film, which stars “Breaking Bad’s” Anna Gunn, “Orange is the New Black” actress Alysia Reine, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas and Samuel Roukin, among others, is written by screenwriter-playwright-author Amy Fox and produced by Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas.
The story follows Bishop, played by Gunn, a top-tier investment banker in her 40s hoping to secure a tech firm for a big IPO. Early in the film, Bishop is denied a promotion from her boss because, he tells her, “the perception is that you rubbed some people the wrong way.”
Krawcheck was among the businesswomen consulted for Equity, and she said that she was glad to see a positive representation of those working in the financial services sector — particularly the women. “You don’t see any films about women on Wall Street, let alone films about women on Wall Street with honorable characters,” said Krawcheck. “This is a pretty important film from that perspective.”
Menon, the director of the 2013 critically acclaimed road-trip comedy, “Farah Goes Bang,” said this consciously gender-specific film was the brainchild of Reiner and Thomas. “They saw that there wasn’t much opportunity for the type of roles they were interested in playing like the complex, smart, intelligent women in the workplace that are engaged in the drama that relates to their professional life,” she said. “They were looking for a female director to put forward interesting, complex roles for women on screen, and so they wanted to hire as many women behind the camera.”
Menon, who was awarded the inaugural Nora Ephron Prize for a groundbreaking woman filmmaker by Tribeca Film Festival and Vogue for “Farah Goes Bang,” was also showcased as one of Glamour Magazine’s “35 Women Under 35 Running Hollywood” that year. More recently, she was selected to be a Fellow at 20th Century Fox’s Global Directors Initiative.
Menon, who received her bachelor’s degree in English and art history from Columbia University, and her MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, said she had always been intrigued by the financial world of numbers, even writing a script on the subject during film school. But for the film, she said she relied heavily on the research conducted by Fox.
“The only way I can think of doing that is to try and find a way to bring those marginalized perspectives and pull them into the center,” she said. “I want to continue to find stories about immigrant identities, female identities, people of color and use old genres, genres you know audience likes but use a fresh perspective, a new way to tell them.”
The paucity of women in lead roles is definitely a concern for this filmmaker, but she is also perturbed by the negligible number of South Asian women in mainstream roles. Now that she has a foot inside Hollywood’s door, she said she wants to do as much as she can to support other women.
“The scripts that I generally respond to are films with female leads because those characters I understand the most intuitively,” Menon told India-West. “The only way to tell a good story is to tell stories that you know. That’s why we need more women, more diversity behind the camera, because that’s what will help us get more stories in front of the camera.”
Menon’s father, Vijayan Menon, is a film producer and the founder of Tara Arts, which has been showcasing various musical and cinema artists from South India to members of the Indian diaspora for close to 40 years. As a result, she naturally gravitated towards the film world. But her parents, she said, were still very apprehensive about her choice of career.
“I had the benefit of being raised by a father who was in his own way involved in the industry even though he was an engineer by trade,” she said. “But because of his interest and love and passion for the arts, I was given a bit of a license to pursue as a profession.”
Being a second generation immigrant, Menon said she realizes the hard truth about Hollywood’s racial diversity problem and the subsequent lack of South Asian representation in the industry. “It’s still a challenge and that’s a conversation or a change of wave I’d like to be a part of,” she said. “I have so many incredibly talented South Asian friends who really struggle to find good roles for themselves. There is still a lot of stereotyping in television and movies.”
But she has a plan for those talented South Asian artistes. “I am collaborating with another South Asian director friend to create a web series to present South Asian friends, to see more people that look like me on TV,” she said. “Growing up here there was literally nobody on TV that looked like me. It affects the way kids grow up here because they don’t see themselves in TV shows or movies; they end up feeling different like they are not normal.”
Menon said if she gets herself more directing opportunities, perhaps she could “convince people to cast more South Asians in roles they wouldn’t conventionally or traditionally think them in.”