Aaron Sorkin — Oscar-winning screenwriter, prolific TV creator, lauded playwright, and stalwart defender of Great White Men — is surprised to learn that Hollywood has a diversity problem.
As Variety reports, in a panel discussion (what else?) at the Writers Guild Festival in Hollywood on Saturday, Sorkin appeared positively befuddled when the topic of diversity in writers’ rooms came up, asking the audience, “Are you saying that women and minorities have a more difficult time getting their stuff read than white men and you’re also saying that [white men] get to make mediocre movies and can continue on?”
Speaking in conversation with film critic and public radio host Elvis Mitchell, Sorkin — who created Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and, more recently, The Newsroom — claimed to be unaware of the lack of representation for women and minorities in the TV and film industries. According to an annual report put out by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women accounted for just 17 percent of behind-the-scenes roles in 2016, a two percent decline from the previous year — which makes it on par with the percentage in 1998. Just 13 percent of writers among the top 250 domestic grossing films were women. And a 2016 report from UCLA’s Bunche Center for African American Studies found that minorities wrote just 8 percent of 163 films studied in 2014, down from 11.8 percent the previous year.
But Sorkin, who is notorious for celebrating heroic male authority figures in his work and for under-writing female characters, doesn’t see a connection between these kinds of dismal reports and Hollywood’s barriers to entry for people who aren’t white men. According to the two-time Golden Globe winner, the industry is a complete meritocracy — an assertion that Mitchell (who is black) jokingly batted back, saying, “You may be confusing meritocracy with meretricious, happens all the time.”
According to Variety, audience members began posing unrelated questions but Sorkin appeared genuinely confused and continued to probe the topic, asking, “You’re saying that if you are a woman or a person of color, you have to hit it out of the park in order to get another chance?”
For Sorkin, the success of Lena Dunham, Jordan Peele, and Ava DuVernay, whom he cited during the discussion, is proof that Hollywood has no problem hiring women and people of color, no sir, none whatsoever. Sorkin’s apparent disbelief is particularly disappointing considering that in the past couple years, Hollywood institutions have responded to continual pressure to acknowledge and address the issue.
After the Directors Guild of America released statistics revealing that FX had one of the worst records when it came to hiring non-white men, the network’s president, John Landgraf, pledged to do better and delivered — half of the directors hired to work on FX’s 2016-17 lineup were women and people of color. And after the nominations for the 2016 Academy Awards spawned the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, the Academy changed its membership rules to try to offset the dominance of aging white dudes.
But apparently Sorkin has been taking a very long nap and has just woken up to the issue. To his credit, he appeared to want to help, telling his audience, “I do want to understand what someone like me can do … but my thing has always been: ‘If you write it, they will come.'” Looks like someone needs to take Sorkin for a walk down a long hallway.