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For A Female Banker At The Top Of Her Game, What Does It Take To Stay There?


If you think about Wall Street movies, you probably think about a world of macho frat boys.


MAX GREENFIELD: (As mortgage broker) Trust me. I'm not driving a 7-series without strippers.


LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Jordan Belfort) This is Nicole, Heidi. Come on. Don't be shy.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Nude - you know, topless - strippers.


DICAPRIO: (As Jordan Belfort) And who are you going to be sitting next to? Some disgusting wildebeest with three days of razor stubble in a sleeveless moo-moo.

MCEVERS: The new film "Equity" tells the story of an investment banker at the top of her game and the price she pays for trying to stay there. Anna Gunn plays Naomi, a woman who says early on in the movie, I like money.


ANNA GUNN: (As Naomi Bishop) I grew up in a house where there was never enough. I was raised by a single mom with four kids. I took my first job on Wall Street so I could put my little brothers through college. But I am not going to sit here and tell you that I only do what I do to take care of other people, because it is OK to do it for ourselves, for how it makes us feel.

MCEVERS: Before heading to cover the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, our co-host, Audie Cornish, talked to screenwriter Amy Fox, and she told Audie that line - I like money - came directly from her research, interviewing women who worked on Wall Street.

AMY FOX: This woman was telling me some pretty horrifying stories about what it was like in the '80s and the strippers at the desks and sort of, like, this very rampant misogyny. And I said to her, what kept you going through that? And I sort of anticipated she would say something about her strength of character, her resiliency, something like that. And instead, she said, I like money. And I realized when she said it that I didn't know if I'd ever had a woman say those words to me in such a direct way without any apology. So it was sort of my first clue to figuring out how to get inside the head of a woman like Naomi.


Now, the drama of the story actually comes from her work doing IPOs. She essentially is, like, a Sherpa for initial public offerings for big tech firms who are going to market, lots at stake. And as a result, she has to run a kind of gauntlet of people who underestimate her. Tell me more about what you heard from women in your research about the pressures that they felt.

FOX: There definitely are examples of kind of very blatant sexism. But I was sort of interested in the more subtle form that women encounter. So a lot of things that her boss says to her - like, he says this just isn't going to be your year. He says, at another point, you know, we're hearing a perception that you rub people the wrong way. And these were the kinds of comments women said that they would hear and this very subtle, like, everything you do is just not quite good enough for the people that are making the judgment calls.

CORNISH: There are moments in the movie where it feels like the men involved are essentially playing games. Like, her boss has a tower of Jenga going, like, at all times. Her underlings are eating cookies and, like, goofing off on the Internet. The villains of the story actually pass information back and forth using a stuffed animal. What's going on there?

FOX: Well I think, in many ways, Wall Street has always been a place where there's a sense of fun along with the high-stakes trading and selling that's going on. There's always been this mentality of competition. I think the competition that fuels the industry also fuels the games. And again, I think there is something about sort of male bonding in that. There was one woman who came to a screening at Sundance, and she said it just struck her as a very sort of male thing to be passing the stuffed animal back and forth and having a laugh about it while the woman's entire job and career was on the line.

CORNISH: What are the stereotypes you tried to avoid with drawing these characters, in particular Naomi - kind of the hero of the film?

FOX: I think it's that question of, how much vulnerability can a powerful woman afford to show? And I think that's a very complicated question. But we knew that we wanted Naomi to be able to show some vulnerability, especially to the audience, even if nobody else on the outside saw it. But we definitely wanted her to feel like - like we could relate to a side of her that was more private and more vulnerable than you might typically see.

CORNISH: Because can't trust anyone, and that - that extends to the women around her, right?

FOX: Yeah, and I think - I don't mean for the film to suggest that women can't help each other and mentor each other, because they can. But it's interesting that most of the women I interviewed had been mentored by a very powerful man and had really gave credit to having achieved the level they had achieved in the industry to a particular - in each case - high-level male executive who had championed them.

And I think that that says something about how, in order to really take a risk to help someone more junior, you have to be at a level of security yourself where you don't feel like you're jeopardizing yourself to do that. And very few women are in that position.

CORNISH: In the end, how did it make you rethink money, right, rethink, like, your own ambition?

FOX: Well, one of the things that was pretty fascinating for me was that, as an artist, I have never had a lot of money, to be frank. And I think that when you decide, I'm going to pursue life as a writer, you sort of realize early on that you're not going to get wealthy.

And as a female artist, what I sort of realized in doing this movie is that you find your power being undermined by that choice as well. I was fascinated to see what the women in business could do by virtue of the fact that they had made money. So, for example, they can support other women, you know, by investing in this film, for example. There are very powerful things that women can do, even if they're not being taken as seriously in their jobs on Wall Street. Even if they're hitting a glass ceiling, their money is enabling them to have a strong voice in our culture.

And looking around at a lot of the women that I know who are writers and filmmakers and are, you know, even, like, social workers, my eyes were really opened to the sense that, by pursuing those dreams, we've sort of disempowered ourselves twice over.

CORNISH: Amy Fox wrote the screenplay for the movie "Equity." Thank you so much for speaking with us.

FOX: Thank you.

MCEVERS: That's screenwriter Amy Fox talking to our colleague, Audie Cornish, about the new film "Equity." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.