Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Alex Casey: Wall Street still a man's world

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Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short. Photo / Supplied
Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short. Photo / Supplied

There's a wonderful moment in The Big Short where the character Vinny Daniel walks into a convention room and declares that it looks like "someone hit a pinata full of white people who suck at golf". It's an astute observation as he glances at a crowd of people who are all white, largely male, and exceptionally moneyed. Sadly, this observation could also extend to the current Oscar nominee line-up, of which The Big Short is one, as the Academy has come under fire again for its lack of diversity.

The Big Short is a highly enjoyable and skilfully crafted film. It's funny, fast-paced, moving and somehow manages to explain the inner workings of a complicated financial crisis using nothing more than some Jenga blocks and a rubbish bin. It slowly unravels the corrupt intricacies of a cataclysmic Wall Street disaster, and I left the cinema enraged at the injustices executed scot-free by the 1 per cent. Job done, right?

Even as I focused hard on the lingo, and gently tapped the calculator under my
seat to keep up with Christian Bale's complicated whiteboard equations, there was something outside of the mortgage repayments that didn't quite add up: where were all the women?

Before people go blue in the face shrieking about the importance of "historical accuracy", hear me out. I'm not asking for more leading women in Saving Private Ryan, or more male heroes in Suffragette. Biographical films are bound by the facts of historical events and there is no getting around that.

The difference in this case is that there was a crucial player in the forecasting of the financial crisis who was left out of the film - and she was a woman.

It should come as no surprise that this type of suit-laden Wall Street movie has always been populated by a big boys' club cast that could grace any cover of GQ magazine. Steve Carrell. Brad Pitt. Christian Bale. Ryan Gosling. All men who could sell you a watch and an aftershave at the same time. Adepero Oduye as Kathy Tao shines briefly as Mark Baum's stoic boss, played by Carrell, but there remains a crucial missed opportunity for further diversifying the faces on screen.

Sure, the film chooses to leave in Marisa Tomei, whose Oscar-winning talents were reduced to "perpetually nagging wife on phone". And who can forget Margot Robbie, the naked blonde used as a tool (object) to explain complicated financial theory from a bubble bath?

But where's Meredith Whitney, the real-life financial analyst who famously declared that multinational Citigroup could go bust in 2007? Whitney was hailed an "oracle" at the time, a hero who publicly called out the shoddy assets of many different Wall Street firms, and was responsible for changing the US stock market forever. She also featured in the book on which the film is based.

I don't know the decision-making behind excluding Whitney's story from this film. Perhaps it would have confused the story? Perhaps it was just easier to throw in a whole lot of strippers rather than write a complicated, heroic, smart female character as a counterpoint? Whatever the reasoning, it's still a missed, precious opportunity to tell of a woman's important role in shaping a world that is still so dominated by men.

With the current Oscars boycott opening up the conversation about diversity and representation in Hollywood, it is timely to take note of these kinds of issues. The Bechdel test, created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, is a simple way to gauge how a film has chosen to represent gender and ethnicity. And, more often than not, it is a choice.
The test is simple: are there more than two named characters who are women or people of colour? Do they have at least one conversation with each other?

Is the conversation about a man or a white character?

Next time you are munching some popcorn, try it out and see what films are telling us about the world, whose stories they are choosing to share and whose remain untold.

Rated M, in cinemas now.

- Spy.co.nz

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Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

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