Monday, May 7th, 2012

Lena Dunham Addresses Girls Racial Criticism Like A Good Liberal Arts Grad

When the Girls backlash was at its peak (all the way back in April), it was hard for Lena Dunham, the show's creator/writer/director/star, to address the show's controversies with the level of sincerity and thoroughness the issue demanded. Instead, we got this eventually deleted tweet from Girls writer Lesley Arfin:

“What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME”

Which was glib and made the problem worse. Now that things have cooled down, and her show has gotten picked up for another season, Lena, herself, was able to address the issue directly, in a conversation with NPR's Fresh Air:

"I take that criticism very seriously…This show isn't supposed to feel exclusionary. It's supposed to feel honest, and it's supposed to feel true to many aspects of my experience. But for me to ignore that criticism and not to take it in would really go against my beliefs and my education in so many things."

And here is her response to the criticism of the show's whiteness:

"I wrote the first season primarily by myself…Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting. If I had one of the four girls, if, for example, she was African-American, I feel like — not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn't able to speak to. I really wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me…And this is a hard issue to speak to because all I want to do is sound sensitive and not say anything that will horrify anyone or make them feel more isolated, but I did write something that was super-specific to my experience, and I always want to avoid rendering an experience I can't speak to accurately."

This isn’t a 100% reassuring answer but it does suggest that moving forward, with the aid of a staff of writers, the show will be able to expand to characters of other races. And hopefully these new characters will be written with as much thought and specificity as the rest of the show has been.

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  • Victor

    "This isn’t a 100% reassuring answer " Why not? Seems like it's a very honest answer, I don't see the problem. She's writing about what and who she knows; so far, this is who and what she knows. This whole thing has been a real non-issue as far as I'm concerned, that has been blown up into something for who knows what reason. It's pathetic.

  • kphaneuf

    Who fucking gives a shit? This is a show about upper-middle class white girls living in New York. That's the show. There doesn't need to be any black people in this show — that's a different show! Lesley Arfin's response was completely accurate and less glib than this issue deserves. Some movies are about the experience of being a minority and some aren't! This has got to be the most ridiculous "controversy" I've ever seen. And the day they do start including token minority characters, as this writer inanely suggests they should, is the day I stop watching.

    What nonsense.

    • JoshUng

      I do think Lesley's comment was a bad call, if only because she must be smart enough to know that it probably would be considered antagonizing.

      But overall, I would agree that this shouldn't be a controversey.  Perhaps its HBO's role to be more inclusive with their programs, or "television as a whole's" role, but a show written by somebody who's basing it primarily on their life owes it be accurate more than anything else.

  • Erik Voss

    Is this seriously the position Splitsider is taking on this issue?

  • Filup Molina

    Yeah, I'm a member of a minority group and I could care less if this show represented my ethnicity more. This is like wanting more asians on Jersey Shore. These monocultural groups exist in real life and should be represented. In fact, I think the only mistake made in this show's marketing is in its title. "Girls" makes the suggestion that all girls will have a voice here, not just "These Girls" (a title that I really don't think would have created the same expectations). Jemima Kirke, one of the leads on the show, agrees with this being the main issue of the show, though for some reason, on Splitsider, that quote was buried at the bottom of an article mostly about Veep's ratings.

  • http://twitter.com/megh_wright Megh Wright

    This post has been jarring to me since I read it. Did we ever need reassurance from Lena Dunham in the first place? We should be celebrating shows with unique voices, not trying to stifle them with absurd and imaginary PC quotas.

  • MakesNoScents

    I'm going to join the pile-up here – 

    SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT THIS NON-CONTROVERSY! The only people perpetuating this "outrage" are lame bloggers that need to reach a quota. Even Arfin's tweet is a more profound statement on race and comedy than anything posted on here about it. 

    Let's all hope the cast of GIRLS starts looking more like the BK Kid's Club. WHERE ARE THE HANDICAPPED CHARACTERS?? OUTRAGE!!!

  • http://twitter.com/iammanywaters Luap Namgreb

    They should just put Dinklage on every HBO show and be done with it. Controversy over.

  • doublehis

    " it does suggest that moving forward, with the aid of a staff of writers, the show will be able to expand to characters of other races. And hopefully…."

    WAGH! That sentence should end "and hopefully, Girls won't start sucking royally after the first season, just like Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, and nearly every other show that enlisted staff writers after the first season…"

    am sad already