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Lena Dunham Addresses "Girls" Diversity Criticism & Why I Just Don't Care...

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act May 8, 2012 at 3:29PM

"I wrote the first season primarily by myself, and I co-wrote a few episodes. But I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs. 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 only later did I realize that it was four white girls. As much as I can say it was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, 'I hear this and I want to respond to it.' 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."
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"I wrote the first season primarily by myself, and I co-wrote a few episodes. But I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs. 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 only later did I realize that it was four white girls. As much as I can say it was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, 'I hear this and I want to respond to it.' 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."

Lena Dunham's response to public outcry over the lack of diversity in her popular new HBO series Girls

I've received several emails from readers asking if we are going to address this Girls matter, and, for the most part, I've avoided any discussion about it, because, quite frankly, I just don't care! There - I said it. 

I'll make this short and sweet.

Not that I don't care about the lack of diversity in not just Dunham's series, but in television and film (especially at the studio level) in general; Of course we care, as readers of this site will know very well! However, I think it's silly to place that particular burden on a single show, and on one person's shoulders. 

It's not as if this is the first time we've seen network TV programs with all-white casts; it seems like every year, this comes up. I remember the uber-successful NBC sitcom Friends (which was also set in NYC) and the criticism it received for its lack of diversity in its casting. Eventually Gabrielle Union made history when her featured guest role as the love interest of characters played by both Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer, marked the first time a black actor had been featured on the NYC-set sitcom. And that was over 10 years ago. 

Evidently little has changed, because we are STILL having these same discussions several years later, and I'm just sick and tired of it all!

I'm far less upset with the Lena Dunhams of the world, who are really writing from their own true-to-life experiences, no matter how shallow and insular we might think of them; really, is it that difficult to fathom 4 white girls living in Brooklyn, who have no black friends? It's not for me. I live in Brooklyn, and it's as segregated as any other multi-racial/ethnic community. Sure there are pockets here and there where you'll find a nice mix of skin-tones. But, we're nowhere as post-racial as some might think. And socio-economic class is also very much a consideration.

I should note that *we* (black people) certainly aren't the only *minority* group that's marginalized and under-represented. 

May I suggest that, Instead, whatever frustration you feel should be directed at yourselves, and each other, as well as those black men and women in the industry - especially those with power and influence to affect change.

The problem, as I see it, and as has long been the case, is one of variety - specifically, a lack of it, where black representation is concerned. We keep waiting, hoping, wishing that eventually the white executives who run the industry will suddenly have a change of perspective, and we become no longer invisible to them; but we're continuously disappointed. So we fight over the few crumbs that we get annually.

Instead we should invest all that energy into supporting those black filmmakers, content creators, movements, initiaitves, causes, organizations, etc, etc, etc. that we see some value in. Will doing that change the face of the industry overnight? No; but it's far more productive, as far I'm concerned, and will likely eventually lead to the kind of change we keep crying for.

Dunham said that the 'race" problem in Girls will be addressed in the next season, and the characters will be more diverse. Great! However, I'm not a fan of what she called classic network tokenism in casting; in essence, don't give us characters of color just to meet a quota, or as a knee-jerk reaction to the criticism. And then when she does include black characters who aren't written as we'd like them to be, we'll only just criticize further!

If anything, I think she should stop apologizing, and just follow Woody Allen's approach. The man has been criticized for years for just how insular the worlds he creates on film are; but that obviously hasn't affected his choices, and his success.

So I just can't get worked up over this single show and this single writer. And I actually think it's unfair.

I haven't watched a single episode of Girls, and I don't intend to. It's of no interest to me. I have so much else to keep up with. I hear it's a good show, well-written etc. But nothing about it attracts me. 

But it's certainly not the first, nor will it be the last high-(or low-) profile TV show that's absent of *color*. Little has changed in decades, and I don't expect much to change; but what we do have control over is how we respond to these things. And the same old response - getting upset about it, and voicing our frustrations - hasn't produced much in terms of results; because we are STILL having the same conversations, and vocalizing the same criticisms.

So it's time to sing a different tune altogether.

Maybe revisit Girlfriends on DVD, and push for a reboot of some kind.

This article is related to: Television, TV Features


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