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Two Brown Girls Talk 'Girls' - Season 3, Episodes 3

Features
by Zeba and Fariha of Two Brown Girls
January 20, 2014 5:42 PM
15 Comments
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Read "Two Brown Girls Talk 'Girls' - Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2" HERE to catch up on the series of conversations.

In recent years, HBO’s Girls has sparked some fruitful conversations about body image, sex, feminism, and race. Last year, it also sparked the idea for the podcast Two Brown Girls, where we (critics Zeba Blay and Fariha Roísín) discuss film, television and pop culture from the perspective of two women of color. We started the podcast initially as a reaction to the lack of PoC representation on Girls, a show that (perhaps unfairly) was purported in its first season to represent an entire generation of 20-somethings. With the show now in its third season, set to feature its first black female characters, including Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black) and Jessica Williams (The Daily Show), we’re running a weekly critique of the show in an effort to unpack what does and doesn’t work. Below, we discuss Episode 3, "She Said OK," which aired Jan 19, 2014.

Fariha:  I spent most of my morning looking at SNL pictures of Drake on Tumblr. Then I saw a gif of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous and I was like “Oh yeah that's right yeah, yeah, yeah.” Because Philip Seymour Hoffman has that really weird like “I-don't-get-it-i'm-confused?” appeal to him and i'm into it and so whatever, Zeba. So, that's where I am with my life right now. That’s all to say -- Oh! Yeah! Girls.

Zeba:  Sounds like you're in a good place! I actually just finished watching the whole SNL -- it was pretty funny! In any case - let's get started on Girls. I want to start off by saying Happy Martin Luther King day. Also, I came to a huge realization after watching this episode of Girls.

Fariha: What’s that?

Zeba:  I really, really don't like this show. A lot. Like, it's a chore getting through it. Which makes this whole experiment that much more.... complex.

Fariha:  I feel you. It's not that I don't like it, but rather it's just really frustrating to dissect because for the most part all of the characters are so draining to watch and are all supremely shitty and I'm not entirely sure who to vouch for, which might be Dunham’s whole purpose. But, like, we’re in our twenties, Zeba -- and we’re not that shitty. Anyway, I like Adam. After this episode I like Adam even more, I guess that's the most intense feeling I had walking away from it. I mean what did this episode even mean? What was it about? Where is it even going to go?

Zeba:  Yeah. Last week, we got a lot harsh but valid comments that voiced this kind of confusion. A lot of people wondering what the point of us "hate-watching" this show even is, I believe one person called us two chickens "clucking" over nothing. To be honest, I really was under the impression that this season of Girls would have an ACTUAL recurring black character, and I thought that would make for a fruitful discussion about representation. But now, yeah, there's this sense that there really isn't much to unpack. In other words, to answer your question, I think this show is going to places that none of us really care about. What were your reactions to the episode as a whole?

Fariha:  Agreed. And can I just add that the reason why we started this weekly criticism piece was not to hate watch, but rather to discuss the impact of the supposed “recurring black character.” And even that person is yet to appear, at this point we're not so much hate watching as much as we are just "trying to get it.” Nice chicken analogy though, thanks reader!

Okay my general thoughts were: “Why does everyone suck?” I felt sorry for Ray but I really thought Dunham would explore him a little bit more. I loved the episode last season where Ray goes to Staten Island and he just has that breakdown with the dog. It was so climatic and emotional and I loved the exploration of him in the subtlest way. But with last night’s episode there was no real resolution and at every turning point I thought something, anything would be reveal itself. But, alas, nothing! When he went out to speak with Shoshana while she was smoking there wasn't really any purpose, so it felt unnecessary. It could have been way more powerful just to have that shot of her fiddling with her cigarette and him just sort of begrudgingly watching her and then duly walking away. I constantly felt that there were so many moments that could have been fleshed out even with one more sentence, but, no! This whole episode felt like fluff.

Zeba:  I feel you. I often say that there's nothing I feel I can really relate to on this show, but I could latch on to (in a small way) the tension between Marnie and Hannah. The Marnie character just gets more and more ridiculous every time we see her. It's good for laughs, at least. Hannah's birthday party just seemed really sad and empty and beige. It was more a reflection on Marnie than Hannah herself, I think.

Fariha:  Yes, and perhaps we talk about the dynamic of female friendship represented in Marnie and Hannah. It's a complex amalgamation of time blended with experience, but it's obvious the two are drifting from one another and Marnie is holding onto it simply because she has no one else. I like that embodiment of selfishness because that feels very real. It's nice to see another complicated female friendship onscreen as that's what I very much enjoyed about Frances Ha, and despite both Marnie and Hannah being so marred and self obsessed they still love, though thoroughly hate, each other. For better or for worse.

Zeba:  Yeah. It's a relatively interesting thread. Not to change the topic (but I will anyway) but I have a question: Why do you think you watch Girls? Do you think you actually "hate-watch" it, or is that maybe not the right label to use?

Fariha:  I don't think I hate watch it, in fact I think for me, personally, I do enjoy it. For the most part it's entertaining and it's a nice reprieve from other television shows. The real reason I think I watch Girls is to understand why it's been labelled as this important vehicle for change -- and why it's seen as the zeitgeist. There are definitive pockets of the world that sincerely and fiercely engage with this show and I guess I want to understand why.

Zeba:  I think that's valid. I think the term "hate-watch" implies, anyway, that deep, deep, deep down the watcher does like the show. Did you read that recent article, about the "obsession" with Lena Dunham and Girls?

Fariha:  You mean "Falling Down the Rabbit Hole of NYC’s Lena Dunham Obsession" by Jamie Fuller?

Zeba:  Yes! It was kind of mind boggling seeing how many think pieces and references have been made to this series in just a few years (I myself have written a few - and of course, this feature in and of itself is contributing to the list).

Fariha:  How did you feel about it? It was definitely a rabbit hole. Are we contributing to some obsession? Are we all obsessed with Lena Dunham?

Zeba:  I don't really know how to answer those questions. I think at one point I certainly was obsessed, not because I liked the show but because I believed it truly represented a problem, and still does.  But it's like that Lisa Lisa song, that "I'm all cried out," song. I'm all talked out. Like, you were just trying to engage about the actual episode and I deflected because I'm so uninterested in discussing anything about this show and I feel like I won't be interested until I actually see some black and brown folk. And when is that ever going to happen? Spoiler: probs never.

(Fariha’s silent for a while)

Haha, are you mad at me?

Fariha:  Never. You're speaking truths, Zeba Blay

I feel like maybe there's a larger issue that Dunham’s inadvertently tackling. Like, that you’re allowed to be an asshole when you’re white -- as if the two are interchangeable -- which perhaps is why this show is so white and emblematic of the whiteness that exists, as it’s synonymous to being able to do whatever you want at any given time (read: so, being an asshole), without any societal repercussions. Everyone else of any other race always seems to be relegated to being a thug, or a delinquent, but on Girls (which if it is so representative of our times) it’s just “being in your 20s!” And that’s white privilege. What a political statement! Thanks, Lena!

Zeba:  Damn, go in! Well, I'll end by saying that I would genuinely like to know what other black and brown people like or even love about Girls. Because race and representation aside, I'm just not entertained by it. But I know there are a lot of girls like me who are. So this little chicken would love to see some of their thoughts in the comments this week!

Fariha:  Yeah, let's make a call for PoC/WoC! Hey guys, let's just have a big ol' discussion about all this. Let's rehash ~feels~ people. We wanna know!


Fariha Roísín is a Montreal based writer and cultural critic. One day she wants to be really funny. Follow her on twitter @Mofafafafa

Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.

To find out more about Two Brown Girls go to twobrowngirls.co, or listen to the podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/twobrowngirls

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15 Comments

  • Masissa | January 25, 2014 12:32 AMReply

    I don't get it. You hate this show but you watch it every week and then devote even more of your time to writing a bog about how much you hate it. Am I missing something here? Maybe you've already read all the books, watched all the movies, traveled to all the places, done all the jigsaw puzzles, an there is absolutely nothing left to do? Or maybe you're trying to hitch your wagon to this TV show? I just can't figure out what the deal is here. Mind boggling.

  • Suzy | January 23, 2014 9:38 PMReply

    I appreciate reading about this show from "another"s perspective. I relate to the show because not only do I resemble Hannah, I'm also from a similar socio-economic background, went to a liberals arts college, dated idiot guys, foundered in my career, got caught up in my friends messy lives, etc. (of course this was all 20 years ago). I laugh at the things they say and do and feel, because I remember saying and feeling and doing those things. I did think, as I was watching it last season, "I wonder what a person of color would think about this show?" It is interesting that she doesn't have any friends who are black, or any recurring black characters. Heck, I grew up in somewhat "privileged" circumstances, and was surrounded by diversity. Maybe that's a west coast thing, though. Is New York more segregated, in some ways? Anyway, thanks for the insight and the different perspective!

  • Suzy | January 23, 2014 9:43 PM

    Oops, please pardon the typos!

  • Lamaal | January 22, 2014 6:38 PMReply

    So, I am a white girl. And I guess I like the show from a body-positive perspective, and can relate to it in parts. I'm confused, too, by the assumption that it is Zeitgeist, only because it does have a different sort of gaze - in the end it portrays a group of majorly privileged White girls, that I can't relate to in many ways either because I have not had these privileges (apart from being white, which I do not deny is a major privilege in "Western" "normality"). But, what made me enjoy Girls in the beginning was that it very stubbornly made me look through someone's eyes, that it is located, has a very specific, visible perspective - an annoying perspective that only lets you see what it wants you to see. Every piece of art, all US American TV shows, have a perspective which selectively shows/silences/etc etc, but not many (I know) make it that visible. If you do not want to watch a bunch of privileged, US-American, rich, educated, self-absorbed White girls, who can blame you, but the show never gave me the impression that it tried to show or be about anything else. And the way I understand it, not because Girls assumes to show what is "normal" (for girls), but because it does not try to seem objective. It shows what it knows/sees -which is obviously limited. What is missing from it is so visible to me by its blatant absence. And, only because some people (privileged to voice that opinion and be heard) have decided it is the voice of a generation, I would not conclude that the show should thus be that voice in a really inclusive way. Like AD commented here, how could it? What does Lena know? So, I feel Girls silences are valid reasons to get angry. I get that representation is crucial, and cruel. But I don't see GIRLS as being like 1st wave feminism telling everyone how life is and how to live, with that god-trick, all-knowing. I see it as one story told from one perspective. I also wish more and other stories were told with such subjectivity, and would get heard, and get that kind of attention. But is the attention it gets a reason to wish for GIRLS to change or for attention to change its focus?

  • AD | January 22, 2014 12:34 PMReply

    I am an African-American woman, 27 years of age. And I can't speak for anybody other than myself, but if I could, I would say thank you to Lena for not only telling me, but showing me it's okay to be physically and emotionally imperfect. There's a gaping hole between talking the talk and walking the walk and I feel like she's sprinting. That's my womanhood talking. On a different point, I am a filmmaker (as I'm sure most of the people reading this blog are) and at the moment, the majority of what I create showcases a predominantly black cast. Not because I'm incapable of writing for other ethnicities, but because those aren't the stories I'm interested in telling at the moment. That being said, I could see myself doing something completely different in the future. Some might say that Lena should use her platform & success to work against the precedent that no one will care about or watch a show that features a minority cast--some might say she should be more like Jenji Kohan of "Weeds" and "Orange Is The New Black". Maybe one day she'll do something different. Maybe she won't. Either way, she's an artist whose voice I'm not interested in having silenced. I find myself slightly confused whenever a discussion about an artistic project focuses on "why". Why not? It's art. And peoples' reactions to it are going to vary because art is subjective. I think it's futile to harp on the "what it isn't". Of course diversity is the ideal, but that's not what this show is about. A friend of mine noted that she loves the show itself, but the title is off-putting for obvious reasons (let me be explicit--a show with the title "GIRLS" should portray every type of girl with the only common denominator being a vagina). I think the title and the presumed intention behind it is what causes so much uproar in folks. To that I say, watch it for what it is, or don't. "GIRLS" is its own entity, and honestly has only had a positive effect on my life and my work. I was doing me before I saw it, and I'mma do me after. So, to Lena, I say thanks for the encouragement.

  • not_here_for_it | January 21, 2014 11:54 PMReply

    @ Zipit: F*CK OFF! They can write and watch what ever the f*ck they want!
    Black woman, yeah right.

  • ZipIt | January 21, 2014 8:18 PMReply

    IF:
    Zeba: "I really, really don't like this show. A lot. ."

    THEN:
    End this embarrassing bitchfest please. What is the freaking point? You are bringing down the credibility of Indiewire with this opinionated drivel. Who greenlit giving the two of you a platform running this loud and wrong column anyway?? (And you call OTHERS "privileged").

    I hateRead this wack column weekly. As a black woman I urge you to stop now- Just please Be QUIET.

  • truth | January 23, 2014 9:47 PM

    NOT_HERE_FOR_IT


    the same can be said of you dipshit. STFU

  • Not_Here_For_it | January 21, 2014 11:56 PM

    And take your own advice. And if you hate something, why the hell do you keep bloody coming back each week.

  • itsnottv | January 21, 2014 6:33 PMReply

    Please stop waiting for a "Black" storyline on Girls. If it does happen it will get cursory, inadequate treatment that will give y'all something else to bitch and moan about re this show. I watch the show, not faithfully, but enough to know the characters and can catch up on the storylines whenever they have a marathon. I guess i do "hate watch" to the extent that I knew white girls like this in college, were friends with them and yet couldn't stand the whining expressions of their neuroses. Girls hits me hard with that. Dunham has (re)created her own little world with annoying, neurotic White girls who Black chicks would really not want to hang with. Take the birthday party episode. When i saw Hannah, and her crew dancing i wanted to vomit. For me its perfectly fine for Girls to remain White girls. Who wants in that world?? Give me Issa!

  • Mae | January 21, 2014 10:42 AMReply

    I watched faithfully. When Hanna started to have her breakdown, it got to be too much for me. But that's real white girl shit. And I grew up with it...and went to college in Manhattan. Definitely their story. Also, some people may just not be relating to the twenty-something angst. It's like what My So Called Life in the 90's was for high school girls. Better if you're in that place. Anyways, not as into it this season. Think the writing has gone south, sounds like Lena lost her voice to me. And I preferred Adam as a "sociopath."

  • al | January 21, 2014 7:42 AMReply

    Lena Dunham is writing what she knows. Issa Rae writes what she knows. Let's learn from those models. Why continue to search for something that is not there??? I think the reason that "Girls" has been successful is that it's not trying to be more than what it is. The minute they start reaching it will become inauthentic and will be off the air. She doesn't owe anyone anything. BTW , I'm a 52 yr old black man.

  • kc | January 20, 2014 6:55 PMReply

    At 27, only a few months younger than lena dunham, i look to her as an inspiration, the same way that i look to issa rae. they are both my age making moves. I have watched girls since the beginning. i loved the first season, despite everybody getting in their feeling about it not being a true representation of Girls. I'm not looking for lena to tell my story, any part of it. I respect lena and even like her but she is probably one of the last people i would want writing about black women. She's white and she's writing her story. As a black woman, i don't remember the last time i was friends-friends with a white person. And I'm not the only sista or brother like that. Why should she be any different. Think of this as her Girlfriends. My only question is why are we so determined for white people, be they writers or whatever, to give us a nod, a hand, a recurring storyline?

  • Peggy | January 20, 2014 6:30 PMReply

    I'm a POC screenwriter and I've just started watching Girls, I tried to resist but, I watched last season's marathon that HBO put on during New Year's because I'd seen Prometheus about 100 times already. I was hate watching by the 2nd episode. I can't believe how shitty the characters are. I thought Adam was a sociopath. All of the characters are at a minimum terribly neurotic. I used to love Woody Allen during his Annie Hall days and this show seems to be trying to update his schtick for the 21st century but instead of each character being mildly neurotic, they each are deeply disturbed. And yes, #WhitePriviledge is their whole reason for being. It's as if they've got one of those Domes over top of their neighborhood and they've never heard of anything like, civil rights, blues music, school shootings, welfare, real jobs that involve getting shit on you - you know, LIFE. You know a show is BS when the main character expects to make a living as a writer right out of college. Only white girls with rich families expect that in real life and TV.

  • Carl | January 20, 2014 7:55 PM

    So you will not be watching anymore right? Because if you did, you would be an idiot like the two chicks in this article.

    You like hate-watching so much, put in "Birth Of A Nation" and get your rocks off right.

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