Lena Dunham Talks About Girls Being Super White

GirlsSo far, Girls creator and star Lena Dunham has briefly addressed the no. 1 criticism leveled at her breakout HBO show — that the New York City it depicts is unrealistically lacking in non-white people. As Jenna Wortham wrote in The Hairpin, “the problem with Girls is that while the show reaches — and succeeds, in many ways — to show female characters that are not caricatures, it feels alienating, a party of four engineered to appeal to a very specific subset of the television viewing audience, when the show has the potential to be so much bigger than that. And that is a huge fucking disappointment.” In a new interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Dunham expands on her personal and professional reaction to the critiques. The whole thing is worth a listen, if only for the fact that it always helps to hear Dunham be smart and quippy and self-aware, and therefore not her character on the show. But if you want to get right to the meat of the situation, Dunham’s response is conveniently plucked out for you below:

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. …

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 …

I want to avoid classic network tokenism in casting because, although I think that people of color are severely underrated on TV, I’m not sure that that’s always the solution. That being said, as I said in an interview with the Huffington Post, now we have the opportunity to do a second season and, believe me, that will be remedied. I’m really excited to introduce new characters into the world of the show and some of them are really great actors of color and some of them are white actors and [we'll] continue to try telling really honest stories, but the world of the show is really growing more diverse.

Well, certainly a lot to break down here. But, just quickly: There’s something to be said for that fact that Dunham is aware, and apologetic, that she wasn’t able to provide a truly all-encompassing rendition of young girls in New York right now. And she realizes she has a massive platform, and therefore a responsibility to be fair with that platform. We won’t know until the second season if she can pull it off. But at least she’s listening.

Previously: The Predictable (and Productive) Girls Backlash
The ‘Yo, Is This Racist?’ Month in Racism for April: Our Token Black(face) Friend

Filed Under: Girls, Girls Talk, HBO, Lena Dunham

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Amos Barshad has written for New York magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

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