Aaron Sorkin is known for writing witty, rat-a-tat dialogue for his TV and movie characters, but unfortunately that quick paced, off-the-cuff way of talking doesn't always serve him so well in real life. Case in point, a response he recently gave during an audience Q&A for Tribeca Innovation Week that was thoughtless, misinformed and, in typical Sorkin fashion, a little bit sexist.
"When 52 percent of the movie ticket-buying public are female but only 15 percent of the protagonists are, it doesn't seem like commerce is actually winning. I know on your TV show you have great female characters. Are you going to write a female protagonist for a feature any time soon?"
Sorkin, who is currently writing the screenplay for the latest Steve Jobs biopic (because that's all we need), validated the person's concerns about the lack of female protagonists on the big screen, but then — apropos to seemingly nothing (it's not like anyone was blaming him for anything) — went on to point out that this is just as much the fault of women as it is the fault of men:
"I don't know, is the answer to your question. You're making a really good point about the disparity between who's buying the ticket and who's up on screen. Furthering that point, these decisions aren't made entirely by men. There are roughly as many women who can green-light a film in Hollywood as there are men. From Amy Pascal at Sony to Stacy Snider at Dreamworks, Donna at Universal. But I've always thought that there is a great female James Bond movie to be done. I'm not literally calling her Jane Bond, I mean, but a female secret agent."
This idea that there are as many women green-lighting movies as there are men is simply not true. In fact, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that women only made up 15% of the executive producers behind the 250 top grossing films of 2013. This percentage, as Jessica Grose points out at Elle, has hardly changed since the late 90s. (If you want more on the challenges of being a woman in the film industry, we have plenty of reading material for you here.)
But Sorkin has more to say:
"There's a misunderstanding out there too. Because I've been reading a lot recently about how a female-driven movie like, say, Bridesmaids is looked at as a fluke. The success of that movie is looked at as a fluke and therefore Hollywood doesn't do it. That's a premise that suggests that studio executives have piles of scripts as good as Bridesmaids on their desks. They don't. Bridesmaids got made because it was really good. I promise you nothing but capitalism drives decision-making in Hollywood. If there's a sense that this will make money, it'll get made."
What he seems to be suggesting — and forgive me if I'm wrong because, as is often the case with Sorkin, I've been talked into a state of near delirium — is that there would be more movies with female protagonists if people would write actual good scripts about women. But wait — people are writing good scripts about men? A sequel gets made for every shitty male-driven comedy or action movie because those movies are so good?
It's been shown time and time again that people will pay to see movies that treat women like actual characters instead of as props. They'll pay big money, which, as far as Sorkin is concerned (and I think he's right), is what gets a movie made in Hollywood. And yet these women driven films aren't getting made. If only some highly prolific, wildly successful screenwriter — maybe one whose name rhymes with "Baron Horkin" — had it in his power to write a screenplay about a C.J. Cregg type or help out a female screenwriter who he thinks could do it better. Where could we find a guy like that?
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