Much the way white America was flabbergasted when it found out about police brutality by seeing the Eric Garner video, or how it clutched its pearls a couple of months ago upon discovering that there exists a movement called the “alt-right” that wants to turn America into Caucasian Disney World, this weekend Aaron Sorkin was astonished to learn that there’s racism in Hollywood.
Y’all know Aaron Sorkin—winner of four Emmys, two Golden Globes and an Oscar. Last year the Hollywood Reporter named him to its list of the 100 most powerful people in entertainment. Sorkin is the acclaimed television writer who makes the movies and TV shows that feature white people walking really fast and talking really fast at the same time, like The West Wing and HBO’s The Newsroom. He also wrote the movies A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Steve Jobs and—you know what? Now that I think about it, none of those movies or TV shows had a black lead character, so maybe you don’t know Sorkin at all. Just trust me—he’s a very important man.
This weekend, Sorkin participated in a panel at the Writers Guild Film Festival in Hollywood. Someone asked him about the lack of diversity in television writers’ rooms. Sorkin almost didn’t understand the question, responding, “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?”
According to Variety magazine, the renowned screenwriter seemed genuinely shocked to hear this. Sorkin expressed that he genuinely believed that Hollywood was a meritocracy, and had no idea that there was a diversity problem in the entertainment industry. When presented with the idea that minorities must perform at a level higher than that of their white counterparts, he struggled to grasp the concept that minorities in every field have come to accept as a hard truth.
“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?” Sorkin, a well-known liberal who’s not afraid to inject progressive ideas into almost all of his work, went on to add. “What can I do [to help]? I do want to understand what someone like me can do … but my thing has always been: ‘If you write it, they will come.’”
Sounds legit ... until you remember that a few years ago, Sorkin was also targeted during the Sony email hack that revealed how he felt actresses aren’t as good as their male counterparts, because their roles aren’t as difficult:
That’s why year in and year out, the guy who wins the Oscar for Best Actor has a much higher bar to clear than the woman who wins Best Actress. Cate [Blanchett] gave a terrific performance in Blue Jasmine but nothing close to the degree of difficulty for any of the five Best Actor nominees. ... Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep can play with the boys but there just aren’t that many tour-de-force roles out there for women.
While this isolated incident may seem like single-day, morning-tabloid fodder, it is indicative of the hurdles that minorities face in every industry. Often, the people who are in charge and might be willing to help live inside a bubble that shields them from awareness of problems like lack of diversity and systemic inequality. It is only when someone speaks out that they even take notice.
Sorkin’s alleged ignorance shows why people who raise their voices about these issues are important. This incident also highlights how some people—just because they were born Caucasian and male—have the birthright of being able to live their entire lives never having to contemplate the complexity of race, gender and inequality and how it affects them. It is a concrete example of how—whether it is a Hollywood writers’ room or a corporate boardroom—whiteness is an advantage that doesn’t require you to “hit it out of the park” every single time. It is a privilege. Someone should coin a phrase for that concept.
Nah ... I bet people would just get mad.