Over the weekend, legendary film and television writer Aaron Sorkin said some amazingly bewildered things about diversity and representation. Sam Brooks takes him for a gentle walk and talk.
“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?”
This is something Aaron Sorkin said at some discussion over the weekend. This is something that apparently socially and politically aware writer Aaron Sorkin said over the weekend. This is something that human being who lives in this world Aaron Sorkin said over the weekend.
If you’re not sure who Aaron Sorkin is, here’s a quick primer:
- Writer of A Few Good Men, famous for “You can’t handle the truth!” which is a mediocre line made famous by Jack Nicholson’s shouting
- Writer of late-90s sitcom Sports Night, which has not aged amazingly, but is still a pretty good laugh
- Writer of The West Wing, which you have absolutely heard of and I have no opinion on other than, was there ever a young Stockard Channing?
- Writer of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, an hourlong drama where Matthew Perry thought the sketch show he was writing was the most important thing ever made, and everybody else on the show did as well.
- Writer of Charlie Wilson’s War, a film where Julia Roberts wears a very bad wig
- Writer of The Social Network, which every dudebro film student you know thinks is the best and most relevant film ever made, because the film is about and for them
- Writer of The Newsroom, which brought you last year’s news and presented it like tomorrow’s headlines
- Writer of Steve Jobs, which saddled Kate Winslet with an impossible omni-accent.
In short: Aaron Sorkin writes easily digestable films and television shows that feature a lot of white people (oh, we’ll get there, ladies and gentlemen) talking very quickly and usually do so while walking, indulging in conversations which are ostensibly about The Way We Live Now™.
Now, as you may gather from my tone, I have beef with Aaron Sorkin.
Not personal beef, but who knows what the future may hold. He’s a good writer, he’s obviously a good writer, he writes the kind of stylised dialogue that sits right on the line between “Nobody talks like this” and “I wish I talked like this”. But he’s also the kind of writer who thinks a bunch of people walking around talking constitutes revolutionary and groundbreaking art.
You know this guy, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve been to high school with this guy, you saw this guy at uni, if you’ve worked in any industry you know this guy. It’s the guy who has never asked himself, “Should I be here? Am I good enough?” You envy this guy, because you question yourself all the time and you wonder if you are good enough all the time, because you think everybody around you is privately thinking the same thing.
I’m making assumptions on Aaron Sorkin’s inner life here, but go with me for a bit (and honestly if you disagree with me by this point you’ve probably already left a comment on Facebook saying I’m wrong). I’m not saying that white guys who make art automatically get a free pass, because that’s not at all the case.
But there has been, and continues to be, a trend of certain writers, and most of these writers happen to be men and write about men, who get praised for writing ‘universal’ and ‘incisive’ works about The Way We Live Now™ that happen to be about their experience, whereas if you’re a writer who is othered in any kind of way who writes about their experience, it is consigned to a genre ghetto. You’ve written a women’s film, or a gay film, or a black film, whereas white guys just get to write films. Aaron Sorkin just gets to write film. (See also: Novelist Jonathan Franzen, playwright David Mamet.)
So when Aaron Sorkin asks, apparently bewildered, that minorities have difficulty getting their stuff read or seen, I don’t throw up my hands and go, “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?” I go, “Oh, of course that’s how you think.” When you’ve never had to wonder if your work can appeal to a mainstream audience because you’ve never seen a film about the way you are or the way you live, this is how you think. When you’ve never questioned how good or worthy you are not because of your talent but because every piece of art you’ve ever seen has been made by people who look like you, this is how you think.
Aaron Sorkin is not unique. We all know an Aaron Sorkin. He’s the guy who doesn’t think it’s any easier to be a white guy in this world. He’s the guy who thinks that there’s a way to explain the pay gap that isn’t sexism. He’s the guy who doesn’t think outside his own experience because at no point in his life has society, or his industry, ever required him to do so.
This is how a guy who says, “My thing has always been: ‘If you write it, they will come,” thinks.
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