Aaron Sorkin thinks actresses are held back by their gender, but it's his shoddy Hollywood writing that's really to blame

The writer has been caught arguing that female film roles are easier than male ones

Rosie Millard
Tuesday 16 December 2014 18:00
'Newsroom' creator Aaron Sorkin said that Alena Smith was 'excused from the room' for failing to 'move on' from her objections to the storyline
'Newsroom' creator Aaron Sorkin said that Alena Smith was 'excused from the room' for failing to 'move on' from her objections to the storyline

And lo, after the news that some Hollywood execs are mean, and that George Clooney can be brought down by crap reviews, the latest hilarious leak from the “Guardians of Peace” hacker group reveals that Hollywood screenwriters are as dismissive about female roles as we always suspected they were. Male ones, that is.

According to Aaron Sorkin, who wrote The Social Network (not a film which I recall shows any woman in any sort of depth), female film roles have “nothing close to the degree of difficulty” that male ones do. And so basically, goes the Sorkin logic, babes have an easier time getting to that old Oscar podium than the chaps do.

There are so many stupid things about Sorkin’s comments, if the leaks are correct, that it is difficult to know where to start. A good place might be the old saw that the Best Actress gong was only invented so that viewers of the Oscar ceremony would have some fluff to enjoy amid all those dreary black ties and DJs. In other words, that women are simply tottering displays of ceremonial tinsel, held up with tit tape and heels. That their contribution to cinema is just decorative.

Indeed, Sorkin goes on to justify this notion. In his view, male actors have to clear a “much higher bar” than their female counterparts. Like Daniel Day-Lewis, writes Sorkin, whose brilliant portrayal of Abe Lincoln rightly won him the Best Actor Oscar. Unlike Julia Roberts, whose Oscar gong came for merely playing Erin Brockovich.

According to Sorkin, she only won “for being brassy”. Really? I would suggest that the achievement of Roberts – whose performance as the dogged Brockovich fundamentally undermined the notion that an uncelebrated woman in a spaghetti-strap top might not have a brain – was actually a far more subtle one than that of Day-Lewis, who quite rightly took advantage of some 200 years of hero-worship, and a great brand of facial hair. But maybe that’s just me.

Just in case he comes over like a sour misogynist, which of course he doesn’t want to do, Sorkin does try to qualify his view a little. “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,” he explains.

Well, if that is the case, whose fault is that? Surely not the screenwriters, Sorkin? When I am bored, and on the London Underground, I play a little game. I look at the film posters, and count the male faces per film advertised, compared with the corresponding female ones. Alright, with rom-coms, the count is usually equal. But for everything else, including the Bond, Disney, Harry Potter and action movie franchises, it is usually about five male faces to that of one doughty woman.

And so, Sorkin, if major features only see fit to give one part over to a woman, what hope is there of said woman playing a really meaty, nuanced role?

Interestingly, it seems that Sorkin’s silly outburst was prompted by Cate Blanchett’s Oscar for her performance in Blue Jasmine – a role, according to him, which had no “degree of difficulty”. Whereas Matthew McConaughey, who won the corresponding Best Actor Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, had some proper acting to do? Ha! I think Sorkin’s unease about Blanchett’s award might be more about the fact that she played a right old bitch, whereas McConaughey’s, although brilliantly executed, required a rather more straightforward “rogue to hero” journey for audiences to swallow.

I, for one, was rather amazed, and thrilled that Blanchett scooped the award. This is not just because I am a big Blanchett fan, but also because I have a novel coming out this summer whose leading lady is also, to put it bluntly, a right piece of work. “Why did you have a heroine who is a cow?” a friend asked me this weekend. I don’t really know. It just seemed more interesting. Maybe I should send a copy of the book to Sorkin.

That’s music to the ears of any competitive parent

Parents spend more on music lessons for their children than on any other out-of-school activity, a survey found this week. On average, we are coughing up nearly £500 a year on instrument lessons, compared with just over £400 for tuition and about the same for sport. Well, dur. Of course we are.

Just look at the benefits of bullying your child to Grade 1 and beyond, on frankly any instrument you can name. Is there anything which reflects your prowess as a parent more brilliantly than junior stepping up to play Pachelbel’s Canon in the school orchestra? As a package which reveals your child to be clever, plucky, obedient and cultured all at once, aptitude on a musical instrument is hard to beat. Plus, as everyone knows, unlike (say) knowledge of chemical bonding, musical aptitude is the gift that goes on giving. There is nothing quite so magical when you are an adult as the shy reveal of an ability to play an instrument.

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