On Monday’s Fresh Air on NPR, the writer of HBO’s Girls, Lena Dunham, addressed some of the criticisms surrounding the all-white casting of the popular new series. Here’s what 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. 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.”
We complain a lot about negative and stereotypical images of African Americans — especially women — coming out of Hollywood. If Dunham truly doubts her ability to speak to the experience of a black character, might we actually be better off because of her decision to stay in her lane, culturally and creatively speaking? (And let’s admit it: We’d be quick to throw her right under the bus if she did cast a “token” black girl and got it all wrong — and we wouldn’t listen to any excuses about her WASP and Jewish-only upbringing.)
Having to choose between being excluded and misrepresented is definitely not ideal, and neither is the fact that people like Dunham can make it to adulthood feeling totally clueless about the African-American experience. But that’s a gripe about larger social realities that go way beyond the cast of one TV show.
Read more at NPR.