Yes, Hollywood Does Indeed Have a Diversity Problem – An Open Letter to Aaron Sorkin
Let me begin by saying that I cannot believe I am even writing this letter. Earlier this week I read about Aaron Sorkin’s comments on Hollywood’s diversity issues and was completely dumbfounded. My initial reaction was of wonderment: was he actually living under a rock?! And I truly pondered how sheltered an existence Sorkin could possibly be living.
Truth be told, I have no idea how all the talk and calls-to-action about the gross lack of diversity seemed to elude you and countless others (because as we know, you’re not the only one who has exhibited this type of laissez-faire behaviour).
This all came about when the topic of diversity and gender equality was a point of conversation at the Writers Guild Festival in Hollywood. The Oscar winning writer and producer posed this question to the audience afterward, “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 continue on?”
YES, Mr. Sorkin -That is exactly what they were saying then, what I am saying now, and what a multitude of people have also been saying for years. This is not new news! In my opinion, we’ve constantly been subject to mediocrity under the guise of being great, solely based on who happened to direct the movie, write the script, or what critics have said.
However, greatness is not synonymous with popularity or pedigree – even directors who are considered “great” have at least one ‘bad’ film on their rosters. But because of the racism and elitism in Hollywood, these people- (specifically older white men), will never have to go through the same struggle people of colour and/or women are subjected to in the film and television industries.
Now, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your privilege is definitely showing – especially when you believe Hollywood to be, “A genuine meritocracy”.
In what world?!
For years, Hollywood has been a place only for the elite and is only now starting to allow a more diverse group of players to have a seat at the proverbial table, thanks in part to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President, Cheryl Boone Isaac’s launch of the Academy initiative A2020, which serves to improve the representation of diversity as it pertains to race, gender, age, national origin, etc. Yes, a Black woman DID THAT!
We live in a world that’s diverse, and therefore we like to see people who we relate to when we consume media. It’s beyond baffling to me that even now, in 2017, there are many of us who feel under-represented and for good reason.
This notion is not just relegated to film; the same can be said for television – which now has a better track record than film over the past few years, but that doesn’t make up for the overall fact that until #OscarsSoWhite began to trend, everyone (including you, Mr. Sorkin) were apparently blind to what was going on in your own backyard.
How nice it must be to be oblivious to the plight of your peers… *insert side eye here*
Now I know, I’ll get the inevitable tired excuses from commentators, which will range from: “movies featuring minority groups as the main characters cannot bring in huge revenue at the box office”, “they won’t do well with critics or win major awards”, but you can miss me with that.
I have the receipts stating otherwise:
Just look at the success of films such as Hidden Figures, Moonlight and Lion. The same can be said of television shows like, Black-ish, Fresh Off The Boat, Jane the Virgin and How to Get Away With Murder – all of which are led by a diverse cast.
The fact of the matter is we still need more minorities of every persuasion – people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ community sitting in the director’s chair; we need more people of color on-screen in acting roles that are not relegated to being the hired help or some kind of criminal, and we need to see women as more than just the damsel in distress.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there; uniformity is an issue behind the scenes as well. We need more diversity in the editing bays, in the writers’ rooms, animation studios, and beyond to share stories that are different than the ones we see on the regular.
Now, Mr. Sorkin, I know you tried your best to back-track after getting wind of the backlash your comments caused and told Variety, “Of course I am aware of the diversity problem. I was the one who brought up the subject on Saturday morning and kept coming back to the subject.”
And although you did ask what you could do to help or fix the problem, we will need a lot more than just questions and talk because your track record on diversity isn’t great. This can be seen in your continual writing of shows and films that are largely based around Caucasian males (The West Wing, The Social Network, and Moneyball just to name a few) and have been deemed as “incredibly hostile toward women” (The Newsroom) by Vulture. All of this is not okay.
So, Mr. Sorkin, if you do really want to help, I must urge you to take a look at your own body of work and see where and how you contributed to Hollywood’s diversity problem. From there, I would suggest that you hire a diverse team to help you with your next ventures, especially since you have Marvel and DC knocking at your door.
In short, Mr. Sorkin, you have to do better. Please make a conscientious effort to make sure that people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community are very visibly represented in all factions of your television and film projects (on-screen and behind them). The diversity needs to be present everywhere. Please keep this in mind as you go forward in your film making.