For successful screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin, the words “If you write it, they will come” have always sufficiently guided his career. But over the weekend at the Writers Guild Festival, he learned that for many – i.e. anyone who isn’t a white male – it’s not as easy as putting pen to paper. Shocked by the difficulties people of color face in the movie industry, he said, “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?”
Up until this point, Sorkin believed the industry was a meritocracy, according to Variety. Though film critic Elvis Mitchell quickly ribbed him. “You may be confusing meritocracy with meretricious, happens all the time,” he said. And though Sorkin tried to move forward and answer questions from the audience on other topics, he kept coming back to the issue of diversity. “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?” he asked. “What can I do [to help]? I do want to understand what someone like me can do.”
Though his comments have baffled many, it will hopefully push him to use his position of privilege to champion Asian, Latino, and Black screenwriters and producers because as it stands these groups disproportionately lag behind white men. A few years ago, Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramón co-authored UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies’ second-annual Hollywood Diversity Report. After looking at 200 top-grossing US films between 2011 and 2013, the duo found that more than 80 percent of Hollywood directors and writers are white and/or men. Their 2017 report reveals that it’s gotten even worse. Movies directed by minorities went down to 10 percent in 2015.
About a year ago, USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism further highlighted this grim reality with its own report. The 30-page report broke down Hollywood roles (in front and behind the camera) by gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. When it came to directors working in Hollywood in 2014, it didn’t even bother separating people of color into different categories. Instead, it reported that people of color only account for 13 percent of all film and television directors – which is clearly not representative of the 17 percent of Latinos living in the United States.