Drew Faust Weighs in on 'The Social Network'

Faust questions depiction of women and life at Harvard in recent film

A Faustian Perspective of "The Social Network"
Crimson file photo

University President Drew G. Faust, pictured in her Mass. Hall office in this file photo, commented on the portrayal of her office in the film "The Social Network."

University President Drew G. Faust joined the crowds that flocked to see “The Social Network,” and she said she emerged from the theater thoroughly entertained—though a bit skeptical of the film’s depiction of Harvard.

Faust said she was particularly tickled by a scene that takes place in a fictionalized version of her office in which two characters—the Winklevoss twins—meet with then-University President Lawrence H. Summers to air their complaints against Facebook founder and former Harvard student Mark E. Zuckerberg.

“One of the things that amused me most was the portrayal of Mass. Hall—where are my ancient books?” Faust asked, gesturing around her office, which contains more international tchotchkes than the sorts of old volumes shown in the movie.

As a fan of the “The West Wing,” Faust said she appreciated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s snappy dialogue for the movie. But she said that she was troubled by the lack of strong female characters.

“I was very concerned about the portrayal of women,” Faust said. “All the people who had agency in this movie who were important were all men...There are the spurned girlfriends, there are the people at parties, but women don’t seem to be full participants in Harvard student life.”

That depiction, Faust said, does not line up with the Harvard she knows.

According to Faust, Sorkin failed to deliver the powerful women that consistently confronted—and often deflated—the large male egos of the Bartlet administration in his long-running television series.

“I think Aaron Sorkin wrote such great female characters in ‘The West Wing,’” she said. “C.J. and Donna were fabulous, but there’s no similar representation of terrific female characters in ‘The Social Network.’”

Faust also said that she thought the film played excessively on stereotypes of the Harvard experience.

“People just have ideas of what student life is like,” Faust said. “They have in their head certain images that are associated with Ivy League institutions, or what youth do in Ivy League institutions, or what athletes are like.”

And who was Faust’s favorite character?

“I thought one of the most interesting and complex characters was Sean Parker,” she said, referring to the Napster co-founder played by Justin Timberlake. “He was seductive and yet so complicated. He was sort of Mephistophelean. There was something both attractive and repulsive about him.”

“The Social Network,” which opened on Oct. 1, documents the creation of the social networking site Facebook and has been received with general critical acclaim. Many of the scenes in the movie take place at a fictionalized Harvard, where Zuckerberg founded the site.

—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at egroll@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at zoe.weinbergcollege.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer William N. White can be reached at wwhite@fas.harvard.edu.

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