Since premiering last month, Lena Dunham’s half-hour HBO dramedy Girls has been both praised and criticized by the public. While Girls has been hailed as “the best show of the year” by the Daily Beast, others have been very critical about the show’s lack of diversity.
Girls follows four 20-something women as they try to make it in Manhattan. Despite living in one of the most racially diverse cities on Earth, the world of Girls is shockingly white and, to some, very annoying.
While many watch the show, wondering how it will develop (and if it’ll become more diverse), Dunham says she’s thankful for the conversations the show has sparked, namely those dealing with race.
Dunham explains on 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 I think the liberal-arts student in me really wants to engage in a dialogue about it, but as I learn about engaging with the media, I realize it’s not the same as sitting in a seminar talking things through at Oberlin. Every quote is sort of used and misused and placed and misplaced, and I really wanted to make sure I spoke sensitively to this issue.”
Dunham, the show’s writer, creator, and star, also explained why she didn’t include any black characters on the show: she just couldn’t write them authentically.
“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.”
Hmm…so I guess Dunham doesn’t have any black friends she can bounce ideas off of? And if the experience of black and white, privileged 20-somethings isn’t so different, I don’t see how including a more diverse portrait of the city could do any harm. But hey…it’s not my show.
I’ll give Dunham the benefit of the doubt, though. Considering she was writing from her experience, I guess I can’t fault her for writing what she knows. If she’s used to interacting with all-white peers, just like many of us have an all-black crew, I guess I can’t fault her for it. But I will be keeping an eye out to see how Girls will deal with its “diversity problem” and if the non-white Girl they will most certainly end up including in the show sticks out like a sore thumb or blend seamlessly into the group. I’m hoping for the later, but you never know.
What do you think of Laura Dunham’s response to the critics?