Lena Dunham On GIRLS’ Whiteness: “I Wouldn’t Do Another Show That Starred Four White Girls”
When Girls first started in 2012, one of the biggest criticisms of the program was that it was overwhelmingly White.
For a show based in Brooklyn, there was very little diversity, even in the extras walking around on set (trust me, Bushwick is hella diverse). Back in 2012, Dunham responded to the criticism of the first season while speaking on NPR’s Fresh Air:
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.
And now, as the final season of Girls prepares to air on February 12, Dunham, in hindsight, realizes that if given the opportunity, she wouldn’t do a show with only White female characters again. However, in the February issue of Nylon, she stuck by her original stance that she didn’t want to try and speak on an experience she didn’t know anything about.
“I wouldn’t do another show that starred four white girls,” Dunham said. “That being said, when I wrote the pilot I was 23. Each character was an extension of me. I thought I was doing the right thing. I was not trying to write the experience of somebody I didn’t know, and not trying to stick a black girl in without understanding the nuance of what her experience of hipster Brooklyn was.”
As a fan of the series, I will say that things got a bit more diverse (including small roles by Donald Glover in Season 2, both Jessica Williams and Danielle Brooks in Season 3 and a stronger focus on gay men). I also understand the reality that you write about what you know. If in your everyday life you stick with a clique of White women, chances are, you’re going to write about such experiences. No need to force anything else if it’s not genuine because that’s how stereotypes get played out.
But the truth is, if you truly want diversity without it coming off as fraudulent, having people of color in the writer’s room goes a long way. But hey, there’s always future projects by Dunham, because as she said, she started the series at 23 and is now 30. You live and you learn.
Images via WENN