Highlights from Lena Dunham’s Keynote Address at SXSW

Lena Dunham keynoted the South by Southwest Film Conference on Monday to a house packed with attendees, many of whom waited in line for over an hour to gain entry. Dunham took the stage joking she’d decided to write a speech in lieu of doing an interview in order to make up for her previous under-preparedness as a student. For much of her 40-minute speech, Dunham ran through her bio — information which her fans mostly already know — giving detailed anecdotes funny enough to compensate for the redundancy. She said the speech was an attempt to explain what helped begin her career, noting the huge role SXSW itself played in launching it.

Among the highlights:

  • Dunham’s not afraid to make mistakes when it comes to storytelling: “I’ve been a passionate storyteller for better or worse for a long time. Better would be the eulogy that I wrote for my grandma. And worse would be Waiting, the play about an abortion clinic that I wrote and directed in 10th grade and staged almost entirely with girls who had not yet begun to menstruate.”
  • Her first SXSW film, Creative Nonfiction, didn’t get into SXSW the initial time she submitted it. She reworked it and resubmitted the next year and only then did she gain entry to the festival. She was babysitting when she got the congratulatory call, and as she smiled to herself about it, the little boy she was babysitting stabbed her with a mechanical pencil, saying only, “I hate to see you smile.”
  • When her father saw her second web series, Delusional Downtown Divas, he responded, “WHY did you have to do this?”
  • When Tiny Furniture won the narrative competition at SXSW, Dunham and her team accidentally found out they’d won an entire hour before the ceremony when her producer received an embargoed press release announcing the winners. She and her collaborates then practiced surprised faces out of fear the prize might be taken away if they weren’t “properly surprised.”
  • She continually referred to her past clothing choices as “ill-advised.”
  • Her takeaway from her time as an unknown at SXSW: “I try to remain as open to collaboration and connection as I was in those first moments; I try to remember that people see the grain and vision in unfinished, imperfect work and that they are rooting you on just as you are rooting all of them on. We all want to meet each other’s most authentic selves and perfection is not an important part of that.”
  • She said she cares about being “an agent of positive change specifically for women and girls” and does not care about ratings, Republicans, or internet commenters (specifically those on Deadline Hollywood).
  • The best advice she can give: Don’t wait around for someone else to tell your story. Do it yourself by whatever means necessary.

Dunham closed out the speech with a call for a wider variety of roles for women, noting that Adam Driver has had a banner year, casting-wise, while the female cast of Girls is perpetually typecast into the same sorts of roles they play on her show. She added, “that’s not a knock on [Driver’s] talent, which is boundless. It’s a knock on a world where women are typecast while men can play villains, lotharios, weirdos, and nerds in a calendar year.” She ended stating “things need to change and I’m trying.”

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