Girls: Why I am not mad at Lena Dunham about her show’s lack of diversity

I am a fan of the HBO show Girls. It’s about four twenty-something women making their way in New York City just after college. Not an overly original premise, right? And yet, I am hooked. Lena Dunham is it’s director and star; she writes and co-writes most of the episodes.

Far enough beyond my own twenties, I find the antics, mistakes, heartbreaks, and dilemmas of the four main characters amusing rather than agonizing. I can smile ruefully at the awkward bravado of the banter between Hannah, the lead, and Adam. Until last week, she wasn’t sure he was even her boyfriend. I love how, in spite of themselves, they stumble toward each other in friendship and romance. It’s complicated.

The self-absorption of each girl is epic. In one’s early twenties, one can be awesomely oblivious to the problems of others and still think one is the most kind and generous friend ever.

Shoshanna is a virgin and ashamed of it. Marnie doesn’t know if she wants her recently dumped boyfriend; she just knows she doesn’t want him to see other girls. Jessa, the free spirit of the group, had a pregnancy scare. Hannah and her BFFs live out the universal truths of early womanhood. Their dialogue is fresh and contemporary even as their trials and tribulations are all-too familiar.

In fact, I found Girls so satisfying and engrossing that I did not notice there were no people of color in it. It took social media chatter and Terry Gross to alert me to this fact. Girls debuted in April, and the backlash commenced. No diversity. The girls are narcissistic. They are spoiled.

My own reactions–as a person of color and a woman, among other labels–are as follows:

1. Dunham writes from her own perspective. I cannot fault her for developing a show about a world she knows and wants to explore. She told Terry Gross:

“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.”

2. Let’s be honest. Despite the strides the U.S. has made toward racial and  ethnic diversity in many spheres of human endeavor (the workplace, education, sports, and business to name a few) the realm of the personal remains very segregated for most Americans. We still hang out with people who look and live like us. Here is what Dunham told Gross:

“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.”

3. Dunham is young. She is talented. She has plenty of time to develop shows that reflect the nation’s diversity. Or not. As a person with my own artistic aspirations, I say let Dunham follow her creativity and experiences where they lead her artistically.

I put the onus for bringing the true American experience to our screens on executives, the people who have the power to set the agenda for our culture. Let’s also support artists from diverse backgrounds and perspectives by watching their shows and letting advertisers and agenda-setters know what we think about television offerings.


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