What makes you get up every morning?
It’s a straightforward question, but rarely does it elicit a straightforward response. Ask that question of 20 different people, and you’re likely to get 20 different answers that all sound good and righteous and altruistic but probably aren’t honest. Or as magnificently blunt as, “I like money.” If you did, you’d want to write a whole movie around it.
That’s what Amy Fox did.
Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, and now living in New York, Amy Fox is the screenwriter behind the Wall Street-set, Equity. The movie centers on Naomi (Anna Gunn), an investment banker trying to climb the corporate ladder by putting a previous failure behind her during the launch of a newly acquired initial public offering. If that wasn’t hard enough, Naomi must keep tabs on her VP (Sarah Megan Thomas) nipping at her heels and prosecutor, Samantha (Alysia Reiner), who’s watching over her, waiting for her to slip up. It’s a cutthroat world that Naomi inhabits, but it’s one she loves. She likes money—a line that came out of an interview Fox conducted with a woman who worked on Wall Street for 20 years.
“She just cited some pretty rough things that used to happen in the ’80s,” Fox recounts. “There were strippers in the office and very blatant misogyny. And I said, ‘So what kept you coming to work every day? What got you through that?’ And her response to me was: ‘I really like money.’
I thought that it was stunning because it was so direct and unapologetic,” Fox says. “And I just immediately knew that I wanted Naomi to say that.”
Directed by Meera Menon, Equity was the first feature produced by Broad Street Pictures—founded by Equity’s two producers and supporting actresses, Reiner and Thomas.
“Their goal was to produce films with more complicated, interesting roles for women,” Fox explains. “And this was their idea for what they wanted their first movie to be—a female-driven Wall Street story.”
Through Naomi has been nicknamed “the She-Wolf of Wall Street” in the press, Equity features none of the cocaine, Quaaludes, or excessive bacchanals of Martin Scorsese’s 2013 bad boys of capitalism. Instead, Equity is a tightly constructed thriller of the psychological variety, based on Fox’s research.
“What I tend to do is look for situations that are going to be interesting,” Fox says. “I’ll think: OK, she’s got this boyfriend or this guy that she’s involved with, and he works at the bank too. Maybe they’re at dinner, and they’re talking about their day, and there are things they can and can’t discuss with each other.”
Fox uses this theme dramatically to build tension between Naomi and her boyfriend, Michael (James Purefoy), another Wall Street player. Even when engaging in a casual conversation about work, Naomi must guard herself as any information could compromise her position while benefitting Michael—an aspect of the script that also came from Fox’s interviews.
“There is a lot of double-speak on Wall Street,” Fox says. “When you talk to people who work on Wall Street, there is a strange disconnect where they sort of claim that everything they’ve ever done is on the up-and-up. I’m not saying that they’re not telling the truth, but there is a disconnect between what we know happened, what the industry as a whole allowed to happen to the economy, and what the individual people think they’re doing in their jobs. And that’s interesting to me—in terms of how honest and self-reflective people are about their roles in this larger institution.”
And that honesty is reflected in Fox’s dialogue. Naomi’s line, “I like money,” is later echoed by another character: “Money doesn’t have to be a dirty word.” Who says this line is just as important as why she says it. There is a resignation these characters have to the forces just outside their grasp—be it backroom deals, glass ceilings, or the harsh reality of a mortgage payment.
Fox is quick to acknowledge that not everyone on Wall Street is corrupt and that the majority aren’t participating in backroom dealings, but it is a legitimate blind spot.
“There’s also a lack of acknowledgment that those backroom dealings are going on at all,” Fox says. “Most people you talk to will assure you that it’s all on the up-and-up, and that’s not really reflected in what you read in the newspaper.”