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In January 2021, the world discovered that stocks are memeable. What began as a Reddit-fuelled trend of buying GameStop shares ($GME) quickly snowballed into a cultural phenomenon, as individual traders — sometimes referred to as “dumb money” by Wall Streeters — piled in to screw over hedge funds that shorted, or bet against, the retail chain, convinced it was going to fail. $GME soared by something like 1,700%, costing one hedge fund nearly US$7 billion, before the stock crashed back down to earth. The movie Dumb Money, out now in wide release and starring Paul Dano, America Ferrera, and Seth Rogen, recounts the memestock mania, following both $GME to-the-mooners and the fund managers they short squeezed. TLDR’s Ben Mathis-Lilley spoke with the film’s co-writers, Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum, about how they turned the memestock saga into a funny, well-reviewed movie, and about what some pro investors get wrong about the “dumb money” crowd.
What about the $GME frenzy made you think it needed to be a movie? Who’s the hero?
Angelo: It’s about regular people. Lauren and I met when we were reporters for The Wall Street Journal, so we have experience telling stories about money. We knew that finance movies, like The Big Short or Wolf of Wall Street, are typically about geniuses or mavericks who are part of the industry. Our interest with $GME was piqued when we learned that what at first seemed like a curious footnote in stock-market history was actually a very human story about people who felt shut out of the financial industry.
How did you balance telling an entertaining or inspiring story about these regular people with the reality that some of them lost a lot of money?
Schuker Blum: We worried over this tremendously. GameStop has this complicated legacy where, yes, some retail [or non-pro] traders got rich, but a lot of people were left holding the bag. There’s a character in the movie who loses big, and it’s heartbreaking. At one point, there’s a chyron on-screen that says — and economists have studied this — that the more individual traders trade, the more they tend to lose, and it was important to mention that.
What did Wall Street fail to understand about retail traders before $GME?
Angelo: In talking to retail traders, we learned that many of them wanted to make money, sure, but they also thought there was a principle at stake. They didn’t think it was Wall Street’s place alone to dictate the value of a stock, a company, or even a human life. The $GME squeeze was a way for retail traders to send a message to Wall Street that it doesn’t hold all the power.
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On that note, characters in the movie talk about the system being rigged against the little guy. As proof, many of them point to Robinhood’s decision to halt trading on $GME, which, depending on who you’re talking to, was either done to maintain capital requirements or to help the hedge funds. Has anything changed post-$GME that was perhaps contributing to that rigged feeling?
Angelo: We haven’t seen major changes yet, but there have been some moves to make hedge funds more transparent when it comes to their short-selling positions.
Schuker Blum: Wall Street likes to say it’s back to business as usual. But the big guys are certainly paying more attention to the little guys than they did before. Hedge funds talk about shorting less openly now, and all the big firms monitor Reddit message boards. So the invisible players — the retail traders — are more visible now.
Did either of you ever own GameStop?
Angelo: Still holding! Both of us. We’re proving, as the film shows, that retail traders often lose!
Schuker Blum: It’s definitely below what we got it for. But we’re holding.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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