What I Learned from the Sony Hack

I’ve been meaning to talk about the Sony hack.

I think it’s fascinating. As an attorney, I’m confident their lawyers will have a steady workflow for the next year or two. As a person attempting to enter a creative field that is frequently tainted by structural biases and business priorities, I couldn’t help but eagerly grab the popcorn and watch as secrets were spilled.

Before I continue, let me say that I understand that this post, like many of my posts, concerns the movie/television industry and not publishing. That said, I think many of the issues affecting one are relevant to the other (e.g., the overexposure of certain plots/stories/tricks, the lack of diversity at every level, the assumption that consumers are generally stupid and bland, the high risk/high reward of pursuing a career in these fields, etc.).

Ok.  Here’s what I learned from the Sony hack:

1. Everyone is frustrated by the dumb shit that is actually made into movies. I came to this conclusion based on the Adam Sandler comments. Neither employees nor executives seem to like him or his movies. Yet…they still make them.

Do they not realize that they are the ones who actually have power to do something about it? I’m allowed to complain- not them! If they want to make better movies then…make better movies!

2. People are still comfortable being sexist. The gender pay gap that the hack revealed was really messed up. All of the male stars in American Hustle get a higher percentage of profits than Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence? How does that make sense? But what really bothered me was Aaron Sorkin’s comments that it’s easier for a woman to win an Oscar than a man because male performances are just harder to pull off.

O.m.g.

First, again- if you’re mad that women aren’t performing the way you would like, then maybe you should help create better roles (you know since you are a famous screenwriter with lots of power).

Second, I’m not convinced that just because Aaron Sorkin can’t appreciate the performances of women (the way he can those of men) that means they are actually worse. I’ve posted here before that one of the reasons it’s important to have diverse publishers, agents, etc. is that an old white man, for example, may not be able to appreciate all the nuances displayed in a young, black woman. I think something along those lines is happening with Sorkin.

3. People know better than to be blatantly racist, but there is probably still a race problem. Frankly, I thought the Obama comments were like whatever. They were joking, I get it. Buuut, I find it hard to believe that if these blatantly messed up gender issues exist at Sony that there also aren’t some questionable racial disparities and views floating around as well.

My only hope is that as the Sony execs embark on their apology tour (meeting with Al Sharpton, Judy Smith (the real Olivia Pope), etc.) they actually use the opportunity to try to internalize some of the issues and make some changes.

That’s all for now.

Happy new year!

Nicholas Sparks Sued for Being an A-Hole

Don’t you love it when your instincts are right?

A year or so ago, something about Nicholas Sparks rubbed me the wrong way. Let me remind you that he actually believes that no woman has successfully managed to break into this category of “love tragedy”—which makes absolutely no logical sense.

But that’s old news.

Today we’re talking about Nicholas Sparks the accused racist, homophobe and anti-semite. I read through (most) of the complaint and, assuming the allegations are true, this what I concluded:

Sparks is an a-hole, which, combined with his position as a privileged white male, has given him an undertone of racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, sexism and anti-anythingnotlikeNicholasSparksism.

Let’s start with the Nature of the Claims:

Defendant Sparks, the world-famous romance novelist of such popular works as ‘The Notebook’ and ‘A Walk to Remember,’ describes himself as ‘one of the world’s most beloved storytellers.’ However, despite his commercial success as an author, the greatest fiction created by Defendant Sparks is the public image that he is somehow a proponent of progressive ideals such as diversity and inclusiveness. In reality, the non-fiction version of Defendant Sparks feels free, away from public view, to profess and endorse vulgar and discriminatory views about African-Americans…LGBT individuals, and individuals of non-Christian faiths.

In addition to a number of a-hole tendencies (yelling, berating, etc.), Sparks was accused of:

  • telling the Headmaster not to pose with people in the NAACP (after he was hired to help diversify the school) and other prominent black people
  • stating black students wouldn’t do well at the school because they are poor and can’t do academic work
  • discouraging teachers from assisting bullied gay students in part because the student who started a “homo-caust” was the child of a prominent donor
  • Locking the Headmaster in a room and threatening him until he signed a resignation letter (because he had a multi-year contract)

This is where I stand on this: Nicholas Sparks is the definition of white, male privilege. He views his success as purely individual, the result of his own personal hard work and talent and is unwilling to recognize the advantages that this background has given him, especially as a man writing about topics traditionally viewed as “female.”

It’s one thing if he is just walking around high on himself, making dumb comments at book signings. It’s quite another when he is put in a position of power. Sparks seems to just accept that he and people like him are superior.  He genuinely has no interest and sees no responsibility as an author or a school founder to understand the racial and socio-economic nuances that helped to enable his own success.

The result is that he actually believes he is simply being loyal to his network when he supports their kids who started a “homo-caust” or instructs teachers not to discuss non-Christian faiths in his non-sectarian, non-demoninational school. He genuinely believes that African-Americans are nearly absent from his school (despite it being located in an area that is 40% black) simply because they are less capable.

Does that make him a racist? Or simply a product of and facilitator in the larger structural problems embedded in this country?

Either way, I’m glad someone is filing suit because, ultimately, someone with that mentality should NOT be running a school. As I learn more about him, I also feel increasingly uneasy with his prominence in pop culture if these are the sort of xenophobic messages he’s trying to send.

Thoughts on Publishing and Privilege

There has been a lot of talk about “privilege” lately. White privilege, male privilege, etc. I don’t know what that weird guy from Princeton was talking about, but what I mean by the term is the freedom not to worry that your race has put you at a disadvantage.

Wikipedia’s definition of privilege will do as well: “the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.”

I bring this up because this process of pitching my story to agents has made me feel very “unprivileged.”

I like subtlety. I like restraint. I like things that feel like real life. So as I sit here waiting to be judged by (mostly white) strangers, I can’t help but wonder—will they get me? Will they see what I’m trying to do? My manuscript is first and foremost the story of a relationship—about people of color. It’s neither a traditional love story, nor does it constantly make political commentary. A lot of people will get it, but will the people with the power? Will they believe that readers (white and nonwhite, male and female) will get it?

I came across several articles today that discuss this very issue. They linked from an NPR article about a #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that emerged following a major book convention that had an all-white line up. My faves were one published on BuzzFeed that gets into the institutional problems in the publishing industry and another amazing piece written in The New Yorker by Junot Diaz.  I’d love to share some snippets with you…

The BuzzFeed article on the privilege issue:

“…Many of [the gifts and challenges of writers of color] won’t be seen or recognized within a white cultural context. Nuances of codeswitching, racial microaggressions, the emotional reality of surviving white supremacy, self-translation – these are all layers of the non-white experience that rarely make it into mainstream literature, even when the characters look like us.”

BuzzFeed on why diversity isn’t enough and what we need to do:

“We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism. It walks hand in hand with sexism, cissexism, homophobia, and classism. To go beyond this same conversation we keep having, again and again, beyond tokens and quick fixes, requires us to look the illness in the face and destroy it. This is work for white people and people of color to do, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It’s work for writers, agents, editors, artists, fans, executives, interns, directors, and publicists. It’s work for reviewers, educators, administrators. It means taking courageous, real-world steps, not just changing mission statements or submissions guidelines.”

In The New Yorker, Diaz talks about how he struggled in his MFA program because stories that reflected non-white life were not considered to be literature:

“In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male. This white straight male default was of course not biased in any way by its white straight maleness—no way! Race was the unfortunate condition of nonwhite people that had nothing to do with white people and as such was not a natural part of the Universal of Literature, and anyone that tried to introduce racial consciousness to the Great (White) Universal of Literature would be seen as politicizing the Pure Art and betraying the (White) Universal (no race) ideal of True Literature.”

Diaz also says his MFA program was simply “too white”:

“Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of color—in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem…Too white as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc). In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that ‘race discussions’ were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.”

I think it’s a good sign that we are having this discussion. Personally, I think the book industry is scared to go outside the norm because it’s so fragile at the moment. Sales are down are what not. But I actually feel like the changing industry presents an opportunity, not a problem.  It’s like, why not publish something different? Expand your audience! Take a risk and bet that people will enjoying consuming stories about a diverse world. I know I do!