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Screenwriter's view of Hollywood's leading ladies reads like very bad script


Oscar winner: Julia Roberts as legal crusader Erin Brockovich

Oscar winner: Julia Roberts as legal crusader Erin Brockovich

Oscar winner: Julia Roberts as legal crusader Erin Brockovich

And lo, after the news that some Hollywood execs are mean, and that George Clooney can be brought down by crap reviews, the latest hilarious leak from the Guardians of Peace hacker group reveals that Hollywood screenwriters are as dismissive about female roles as we always suspected they were.

Male ones, that is. According to Aaron Sorkin, who wrote The Social Network (a film I recall showing not one woman in any sort of depth), female film roles have "nothing close to the degree of difficulty" that male ones do. And so basically, goes the Sorkin logic, babes have an easier time getting to that old Oscar podium than the chaps do.

There are so many stupid things about Sorkin's comments, if the leaks are correct, that it is difficult to know where to start. A good place might be the old saw that the Best Actress gong was invented only so that viewers of the Oscars ceremony would have some fluff to enjoy amid all those dreary black ties and DJs.

Indeed, Sorkin goes on to justify this notion. In his view, male actors have to clear a "much higher bar" than their female counterparts. Such as, writes Sorkin, Daniel Day-Lewis, whose brilliant portrayal of Abe Lincoln rightly won him the Best Actor Oscar. Unlike Julia Roberts, whose Oscar gong came for merely playing Erin Brockovich. According to Sorkin, she won only "for being brassy". Really? I would suggest that the achievement of Roberts - whose performance as the dogged Brockovich fundamentally undermined the notion that an uncelebrated woman in a spaghetti-strap top might not have a brain - was actually a far more subtle one than that of Day-Lewis, who quite rightly took advantage of some 150 years of hero worship, and a great brand of facial hair. But maybe that's just me.

Just in case he comes over like a sour misogynist, which of course he doesn't want to do, Sorkin does try to qualify his view a little. "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," he explains.

Well, if that is the case, whose fault is it? Surely not the screenwriters, Sorkin? When I am bored, I look at the latest film posters, and count the male faces per film advertised, compared with the corresponding female ones. All right, with romcoms, the count is usually equal.

But for everything else, including the Bond, Disney, Harry Potter and action-movie franchises, it is usually about five male faces to that of one doughty woman.

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And so, Sorkin, if major features see fit to give only one part over to a woman, what hope is there of said woman playing a really meaty, nuanced role? Interestingly, it seems that Sorkin's silly outburst was prompted by Cate Blanchett's Oscar for her performance in Blue Jasmine - a role, according to him, that had no "degree of difficulty". Whereas Matthew McConaughey, who won the corresponding Best Actor Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, had some proper acting to do? Ha! I think Sorkin's unease about Blanchett's award might be more about the fact that she played a right old bitch, whereas McConaughey's, although brilliantly executed, required a rather more straightforward "rogue to hero" journey for audiences to swallow.

I, for one, was rather amazed and thrilled that Blanchett scooped the award. This is not just because I am a big Blanchett fan, but also because I have a novel coming out this summer whose leading lady is also, to put it bluntly, a right piece of work. "Why did you have a heroine who is a cow?" a friend asked me this weekend. I don't really know. It just seemed more interesting. Maybe I should send a copy of the book to Sorkin.

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