The most embarrassing thing about Sony’s email leaks

It’s difficult to feel sorry for big, faceless corporations, but by the time the year is out, Sony will have inadvertently put this to the test over and over again.

There’s a lot of things we’ve learned from the studio’s massive leak earlier this month, but in some of the more salacious details, Sony has actually come off looking outright pathetic. Granted, the whole story is still taking shape, but as revelation after revelation keep coming in, things also keep getting increasingly embarrassing. Whether it’s their ridiculous power points, their absurd crossover plans, or their own distaste for Adam Sandler movies (even Sony is sick of the guy), the most insightful emails reveal a studio in the midst of a minor crisis. Which, or course, has just turned into a major one.

That said, Hollywood is changing fast, and Sony certainly wouldn’t be the only studio having difficulty adjusting. But there are also a few Sony emails which conjure up details that are less pitiful, and more toxic. On the surface, they might not seem that troubling, but the more you look at everything in context, the more frustrating it all becomes. The worst of these ultimately boil down to one thing: Hollywood’s white masculinity problem.

This is especially evident in emails regarding Jobs, the troubled production about the late founder of Apple, most of which are between Sony Pictures Entertainment Chief Amy Pascal and super-producer/notorious jerk Scott Rudin. More precisely, this is especially evident in the feelings Rudin expresses about Angelina Jolie in said emails.

Conflict arose between Rudin and Pascal because he felt she was not being aggressive enough in getting David Fincher away from Jolie, who apparently wanted Fincher for her proposed Cleopatra movie, so that he could do Jobs. Rudin barks about “the insanity and rampaging spoiled ego of this woman,” obviously speaking of Angelina Jolie. He claims, “I have zero appetite for the indulgence of spoiled brats,” and “I’m not destroying my career over a minimally talented spoiled brat.” 

Most damning of all, he characterizes Jolie as a person “who thought nothing of shoving  [Cleopatra] off her plate for eighteen months so she could go direct a movie. I have no desire to be making a movie with her, or anybody, that she runs and that we don’t. She’s a camp event and a celebrity and that’s all and the last thing anybody needs is to make a giant bomb with her that any fool could see coming.”

As part of what you could fairly describe as “the Hollywood elite,” Jolie may indeed be very entitled. And that she grew up in Hollywood (her father is actor Jon Voight) does mean she was given a leg up in the industry, which is probably where Rudin’s repeated assertion that she is a “spoiled brat” comes from.

But let’s not also forget that Jolie is an accomplished humanitarian and activist. And with her second feature coming out this month, she’s becoming quite an accomplished director, too—a feat that’s still none too easy for women in Hollywood. Moreover, it seems unlikely that Rudin would’ve ever reduced a male star to a “spoiled brat,” a “camp event,” and merely a “celebrity” (that last one is particularly odd when used as a pejorative, since last we checked, Hollywood only wants to make movies with celebrities.) So regardless of whether Jolie is “hard to work with” (another term that’s only applied to women), Rudin’s comments here are pretty disrespectful.

A similar whiff of sexism pops up in his description of producer Megan Ellison as a “bipolar 28-year-old lunatic.” Although Ellison also grew up extremely privileged (her closeness to the Jobs biopic is tied to her father’s friendship with the real man), this is also a completely unfair dismissal. Ellison’s production company, Annapurna, has been behind some of the best films of the last few years, with Ellison serving as producer on movies like True Grit, The Master, Zero Dark Thirty, The Grandmaster, Spring Breakers, Her, American Hustle, and this year’s Foxcatcher. Through the course of that resume, she’s already been nominated for three Oscars. And she also served as a producer on next year’s blockbuster franchise reboot, Terminator: Genisys.

So dismissing her as just a “bipolar 28-year-old lunatic” is fairly offensive, not to mention that, once again, it seems unlikely she ever would’ve been called that to begin with were she not a woman (for the record, Ellison has since jokingly fired back).

Meanwhile, other exchanges hint not only at Hollywood’s male-dominated culture, but at Hollywood’s straight, white male-dominated culture specifically. For instance, in one email to Pascal, studio executive Clint Culpepper refers to comedian Kevin Hart wanting more money to do social media promotion for an unnamed movie, quipping, “I’m not saying he’s a whore, but he’s a whore.” Once more, we have an instance wherein Hart’s request for additional payment may have been a lot to ask, but the reaction is still problematic, given his status as one of the bigger black stars in the country right now—to return to that classic question, would a white man have been characterized this way?

Even worse is another set of emails between Pascal and Rudin, in which Rudin jokingly asks whether Pascal thinks President Obama would “like to finance some movies?” Pascal wrote back, “I doubt it. Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?” Rudin then replied, “12 YEARS.” Pascal kept the “Obama only likes black movies” joke going, responding with, “Or the butler. Or think like a man? [sic].” Rudin finished off by throwing in, “Rise-along,” mentioning, “I bet he likes Kevin Hart.”

But of the content from these emails seems bad on its own, the numbers they disclose don’t lie either. Hollywood’s white masculinity problem has never exactly been a secret, but the Sony leak reinforces and perhaps solidifies what many already knew. “According to the leaked data, there are seventeen U.S. employees of Sony Pictures with ‘annual rates’ of $1 million or more,” writes Fusion.net’s Kevin Roose. “Of these seventeen, only one— Amy B. Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment and chairman of SPE’s Motion Picture Group—is a woman. Pascal’s annual rate is $3 million, according to the spreadsheet, the highest on the list, and the same amount earned by Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton.”

Roose continues, “One other observation to make about Sony Pictures’ top-paid executives is that they’re almost entirely white… [T]he numbers leaked in the recent hack—assuming they’re accurate—would mean that the top ranks of one major Hollywood studio are perhaps even less diverse than those of Silicon Valley tech companies and large Wall Street banks.”

The aggressively macho posturing present in the Sony leak is indicative of the systematic underrepresentation of women, as well as minorities, in the entertainment industry. Yes, a lot of people had their privacy violated here, but if something good can come out of this, like maybe Hollywood is shamed into making more progressive choices, then the leak could actually be a good thing.

Sadly, it’s probably impossible for this incident alone to be the impetus for widespread change, but if it can at least make people more aware of the obvious problems in the industry, then it won’t be entirely bad at the very least. Because for as liberal as they claim to be, Hollywood is a town where the power resides almost exclusively in the hands of straight, white dudes, from the creative side to the boardroom. And if the pissing-contest vibe of these emails is any indication, these men could care less about advocating for anyone but themselves. Instead, it’s all “mine is bigger” game, throwing fits just to let everyone know how important they are.

Actually, that might be the most laughable part of all here. When men like Rudin talk about “spoiled brats” and “28-year-old lunatics,” they’re the ones who end up coming off as overly emotional children. 

Photo via Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Chris Osterndorf

Chris Osterndorf

Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.