Lena Dunham Responds to the Critics Who Say Girls Isn't Diverse Enough

Illustration for article titled Lena Dunham Responds to the Critics Who Say emGirls/em Isnt Diverse Enough

Girls creator Lena Dunham was interviewed for today's Fresh Air, and she was didn't back down from addressing the criticism she and the show have faced regarding the lack of any people of color as main characters. She said,

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.

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The honesty versus expectation debate has been well-covered by both her critics and defenders, but the crux of her defense, such as it is, is basically that it was an accident—specifically one that resulted from her working in a pretty insular way:

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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OK, but this argument only takes you so far, since there are plenty of other major characters—like men, for instance—which she clearly hasn't lived as, yet she still managed to include them in the show. As for the four main characters, if they're really just strands of Dunham herself, then maybe it just would have been better to call the show Girl instead of Girls, which implies they were aiming for something a bit broader.

Lena Dunham Addresses Criticism Aimed At 'Girls' [NPR]

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DISCUSSION

For me the issue isn't that she shouldn't be writing her experience, it's the fact that this is her experience. It is not a personal attack on her, but it is sad how racially/culturally segregated many of us are, even in a very diverse place like New York. It's not her job to solve this problem and I agree with those who have said that she seems to be taking an extraordinary amount of flak for something that seems to be the status quo in a lot of television. But at the same time, I do think that it is a problem worth discussing.

I wonder if part of why this show is getting so much focus is that it very clearly comes from her real-life experiences feels like it is trying to be realistic (for example, the actresses look more like people I know/see out in the world than most TV show casts, in terms of body types). Unlike something like Sex and the City or Entourage, which felt like fantasies (not that that excuses them from whatever issues they may have at all). But when something is intended to reflect reality, and that reality is so vastly different from the reality I see everyday as a New Yorker who grew up in a racially diverse outer borough neighborhood and now lives in another racially diverse outer borough neighborhood, it is way more noticeable than if something that is clearly a fantasy doesn't match up to reality. I've made a deliberate choice to live someplace working/middle class that is racially diverse because that feels like home to me, and I'm not saying everything should make the same choices. But even in neighborhoods that are much more homogeneous, there are still more people of different colors/cultures around than is reflected in most TV shows set in New York.

I do wish the conversation would move away from focusing on this show to ask why the (white) people who make TV apparently don't see people of different racial/cultural backgrounds unless they are stereotypically crazy homeless people or something similar.