In an e-mail none of us were supposed to read, famed nerd-patter writer Aaron Sorkin said something sort of true: women in Hollywood get crappy roles.
Putting aside that what he said:
- Wasn't meant for public consumption;
- Is missing the obvious addendum "and since I'm not a sexist, I think that's awful!"
Let's dive in to the thinking behind it. Sorkin specifically references Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote and Colin Firth as King George VI when he compares the kind of acting that men are expected to do compared to the kind of acting women are expected to do to win during awards season. Of the women's roles he references, only Julia Roberts's turn as Erin Brockovitch is also based on a real person.
I'm not here to argue about that performance, because I totally agree with what it seems Sorkin was saying, which is that Roberts captured the brassiness of Brockovitch but not much else—whereas the male actors he named changed their voices and adopted different mannerisms to portray their roles.
What I am here to argue is that playing a historical character is the ultimate Oscar-bait, because if you take a person that the public already knows and convince them that you are that person; if you disappear into the role entirely so that the audience doesn't see the actor anymore and sees only the historical character, you will wow them. But with fictional characters, it's much harder for an actor to shed their own celebrity image.
So here's the problem: there aren't that many historical roles for women, because women have only recently started to achieve in ways that men consider important and because women's contributions to society have been largely ignored. Even the historical roles for women that do exist have the effect on the audience of being fictional because those historical women exist mostly on the fringes of the public imagination. How do you disappear into a role if nobody sees it in the first place?
This is where I start to wish that somebody would write more roles about real women. We can't go back in time and make the women of history more famous so that most of Western culture knows what to expect of actresses portraying them. But we can at least tell their stories.
And why not Aaron Sorkin? I'd never say he has something to prove after the rape debate debacle, Maggie Jordan and his latest e-mail—but I will say that I think he can do better. And if he's the guy who wrote this:
Then I think he will want to. He doesn't even have to leave his wheelhouse in order to write a historical woman who matches two of his interests: public service and a tech genius.
I won't name names because nothing makes a writer think, "That's a terrible idea" faster than being told "You should . . . " followed by an idea that wasn't theirs first, but here are some Google tips:
- Navy woman
- Rear Admiral
- Computer scientist
- Made people understand that computers should be small
- At the forefront of coding and computer languages
- Famous in her crowd for giving speeches (you would like her, Aaron! she even brought props!)
- Went to or worked at schools you have had characters name-drop in the past (Vassar, Smith, Yale, Harvard)
- Was on 60 Minutes
She's the Sorkiniest woman who ever Sorkined, Sorkin. You should write about her.
I'll even let you think it was your idea.