“Adapt or die,” Billy Beane shouted in “Moneyball,” words written in the Oscar-nominated screenplay from Steven Zaillain and Aaron Sorkin. And yet, when it comes to the internet, Sorkin refuses to follow his own advice.
Though he’s embraced the personification of “old man screams at clouds” to varying degrees of success, this weekend proved why Sorkin can’t hide from the web any longer — not without becoming the kind of person that he has always despised.
On Saturday, Sorkin took part in a conversation at the Writers Guild Festival where he — by all reports — first learned about diversity issues in Hollywood.
“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?” Sorkin asked the audience. Later, he brought the subject up again, asking for clarification. “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?”
To his credit, Sorkin offered an immediate and proper response to his ignorance. “What can I do [to help]?” Sorkin said. “I do want to understand what someone like me can do […] but my thing has always been: ‘If you write it, they will come.'”
To be clear, there’s a lot of context missing from the report, and Sorkin will undoubtedly clarify his awareness level whenever a microphone is again thrust in front of him. But no matter the framing, Sorkin’s historic dislike for a medium dominating our culture is now antiquating one of nation’s best writers.
Sorkin’s feelings about internet culture have been well-documented. His films addressing the world wide web — “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs” — focus on how the creations of antagonistic assholes deepen their separation from humanity, while his TV characters yell things like “The internet people have gone crazy.” And Sorkin’s wary position in words has been doubly reflected in life: Even when he’s not speaking through characters, his distrust of the internet is more than evident.
One would’ve hoped Sorkin’s attitude had developed over time, as many of these reference points are at least three or four years old. (To be honest, I love “The Newsroom,” but it’s not the best example of adapting with the times.) He could change, or at least acknowledge the other side. Sorkin even started hosting online screenwriting lessons through MasterClass, but his personal interactions over the internet are minimal.
After Saturday’s comments, it’s clear Sorkin’s head has been firmly stuck in the sand on least one pressing issue. Who knows what else he’s missed because he’s blocked off a treasure trove of information, opinions, and ideas, but most concerning is his position of power within the industry. Sorkin is still a tremendous writer working at a consistently high level. (Say what you will about “Jobs,” but the script ambitiously weaved layers, details, and artistry into a dense story.)
Not only do you hope his work is being influenced by current events — he’s clearly been keeping up with politics — but as an influencer, he’s exactly who needs to be affected by movements like #OscarsSoWhite and informative discourse online. It’s part of his job to be aware of these issues and do what he can to help. He can hire writers, cast actors, and bring in cinematographers on command, meaning he should at least be well-informed about the diversity issues plaguing Hollywood when making these choices.
And from a purely artistic standpoint, knowledge makes Sorkin’s writing better. When he’s at his best, Sorkin is speaking from a place of authority. Think of Jed Bartlet telling off the religious reporter who refused to stand when the President entered a room. Or revisit Will McAvoy’s legendary opening monologue in “The Newsroom.”
Whether that authority comes from vast research into one of his subjects or personal experience out in the world, he’s able to craft insightful and impactful speeches because he’s keenly aware of history. But if he stays on his current path — meaning he stays offline — history is going to pass him by. And Jed Bartlet, Will McAvoy, and Billy Beane would never stand for that.