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Aaron Sorkin Gets an Education on Hollywood’s Diversity Issue at WGFestival

UPDATED: Aaron Sorkin has clarified his comments about the lack of diversity in writers’ rooms, made Saturday at the WGFestival. “Of course I am aware of the diversity problem in Hollywood,” he told Variety. “I was the one who brought the subject up Saturday morning and kept coming back to the subject.”

He explained that his comments were about trying to engage in a conversation about why there isn’t more diversity: “Is it because studio heads aren’t greenlighting the movies? Is it because studio executives aren’t bringing the projects to studio heads? Is that because agents are bringing the projects to studio executives? Is it because agents aren’t getting the material? I was asking questions to a group of people who understand this problem firsthand.”

He said his questions below were simply repeating what he’d been asked by the audience. “The fact that there’s a diversity problem isn’t news to me,” he said. “One of the questions I asked was, ‘What can I do? If you had a remote control over me, what would you have me do on Monday?’ I walked away from the session with more questions than answers but I absolutely know more when I left than I did when I walked in.”

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Aaron Sorkin had some burning questions about the lack of diversity in writers’ rooms — an issue that he apparently didn’t know much about until he visited the WGFestival, hosted by the Writers Guild Foundation, on Saturday inside the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study 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?” he asked the audience.

The weekend-long festival, hosted in partnership with the Academy Education and Nicholl Fellowships Programs, featured headline panels with screenwriter notables including James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and sneak peek screenings of Starz’s “American Gods” and Fox’s “Shots Fired,” as well as a pitch competition and industry networking opportunities.

Sorkin, Academy-Award winning screenwriter and executive producer (“The West Wing,” “The Newsroom,” “A Few Good Men”) was in disbelief at the event during a discussion moderated by KCRW host and film critic Elvis Mitchell. Sorkin asserted that Hollywood is a genuine meritocracy and that he was unaware of Hollywood’s existing diversity problem.

“You may be confusing meritocracy with meretricious, happens all the time,” Mitchell teased.

Sorkin tried his best to focus on other unrelated questions from audience members, but was itching to learn more about the challenges many female and minorities face in regard to accessibility and opportunities.

“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?” Sorkin posed.

Upon listing women and minority writers who are actively shifting this paradigm, Sorkin pointed to a handful of those who had produced work in recent years, including Lena Dunham, Ava Duvernay, and Jordan Peele.

Genuinely troubled by his lack of awareness, he continued to ask away and ultimately offered assistance.

“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.’ “

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