GENDER POLITICS

12.15.14 7:00 PM ET

Exclusive: Aaron Sorkin Thinks Male Film Roles Have Bigger ‘Degree of Difficulty’ Than Female Ones

A leaked email sent by The Social Network Oscar winner to Maureen Dowd discusses why Sorkin feels Hollywood’s roles for women are unequal to those for men. 

On Sunday evening, The New York Times published an op-ed by Aaron Sorkin bearing the subhead, “The Press Shouldn’t Help the Sony Hackers.” In it, the Newsroom creator channeled his inner Will McAvoy, ripping the media a new one for covering the massive cyberattack perpetrated by a shadowy group dubbed “Guardians of Peace” that’s led to the widespread dissemination of hacked company files online.

Sorkin’s biggest problem, it seems, with the media’s coverage of the Sony hack is that he feels none of the reveals have been newsworthy. “Is there even one sentence in one private email that was stolen that even hints at wrongdoing of any kind? Anything that can help, inform or protect anyone?” he asks.

But in a leaked email uncovered by The Daily Beast that Sorkin sent to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd on March 6, 2014, the Oscar-winning screenwriter attempts to get to the bottom of Hollywood’s women problem.

But first, some context.

In the Times piece, Sorkin divulges that he was victimized himself in the hack, with emails sent by Sony executives claiming that he lobbied for Tom Cruise for his Steve Jobs biopic (he says he did), alleging that he was broke (he says he isn’t), and insinuating that he’s sleeping with Molly Bloom, author of the poker memoir Molly’s Game which he’s adapting into a feature film (he says he wishes). He also calls out The Daily Beast , along with other publications, as “morally treasonous” for doing “the bidding of the Guardians of Peace.” He goes on to claim that these "minor insults" along with the other reveals have no news value.

Well, some of the leaks have been quite newsworthy.

The email exchange between Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and mega-producer Scott Rudin, who shepherded Sorkin’s The Social Network, suggesting President Obama would only be interested in black movies speaks volumes about the othering of films featuring black actors within the halls of power—that wildly diverse films like Ride Along and 12 Years A Slave should be lumped into the same category because they predominantly feature actors with the same skin color. It’s one reason why films targeting black audiences are handled by specialty divisions of studios (like Sony’s Screen Gems), and not distributed by the larger branches.

One of the bigger reveals of the leaks, however—and a very important one at that—exposed the alarming gender pay gap in Hollywood; one that affects top-level studio executives all the way down to the onscreen talent themselves. Emails leaked by the GOP revealed that of the 17 Sony execs making $1 million or more annually, only one is a woman. Furthermore, that one woman, co-president of production for Columbia Pictures’ Hannah Minghella, makes a lot less ($1.5 million) than the other male co-president of production for Columbia, Michael De Luca ($2.4 million), despite having the same job title.

Sony Pictures

Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine."

If that weren’t enough, The Daily Beast revealed that despite their enormous star power, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams were compensated less than their male co-stars in American Hustle—including Jeremy Renner, who has significantly less screen time than the two women.

In the latest email uncovered by The Daily Beast, Sorkin responds to Dowd’s March 4 column titled, “Frozen in a Niche” (which Dowd forwarded to Pascal), that riffed on Cate Blanchett’s Oscar speech for Blue Jasmine where the actress took Hollywood to task for its treatment of women by blasting those “who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences.” Later in the piece, Dowd quotes Pascal, who discusses the “paltry” amount women in Hollywood make versus men, and how female directors face a “mountain of rejection” and “the whole system is geared for them to fail.”

“That was a great and very interesting column today,” Sorkin wrote to Dowd on March 6. “I’d only take issue with one thing and that's the idea that something like Bridesmaids is seen as a fluke and that's why we don't see more movies like Bridesmaids. There's an implication that studio heads have a stack of Bridesmaids-quality scripts on their desk that they're not making and it's just not true. The scripts aren't there.”

Then, Sorkin connects the lack of good scripts to his belief that “the degree of difficulty” in Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine was “nothing close to the degree of difficulty” to any of the nominated male lead performances that year.

“That's why year in and year out, the guy who wins the Oscar for Best Actor has a much higher bar to clear than the woman who wins Best Actress,” Sorkin wrote. “Cate gave a terrific performance in Blue Jasmine but nothing close to the degree of difficulty for any of the five Best Actor nominees. Daniel Day-Lewis had to give the performance he gave in Lincoln to win--Jennifer Lawrence won for Silver Linings Playbook, in which she did what a professional actress is supposed to be able to do. Colin Firth/Natalie Portman. Phil Hoffman had to transform himself into Truman Capote while Julia Roberts won for being brassy in Erin Brockovich. Sandra Bullock won for ‘The Blind Side’ and Al Pacino lost for both Godfather movies. 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.”

It’s tough to compare the “degree of difficulty” of different performances on film. And while Sorkin has a valid central point here—that there aren’t enough quality scripts championing female characters, which leads to less complex roles for women—it’s a bit strange to say that Blanchett’s turn in Blue Jasmine was any less difficult to pull off then Bruce Dern’s in Nebraska, or that Colin Firth’s turn in The King’s Speech measured up to Natalie Portman’s tour de force in Black Swan.

But then again, that’s just as matter of opinion.