Sometimes, you should just sit there and enjoy your show. That’s the main takeaway from the Twitter melée that ensued on Tuesday afternoon after Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter Jeremy O. Harris (Slave Play; Zola) spontaneously tweeted his admiration for the writing of the always controversial creator of Girls, Lena Dunham.
“Y’all sit on Rihanna’s internet [and] talk about my good sis [Lena Dunham] like she didn’t set the trend for a full decade of television [and] body every imitator that came after her by writing 3 of top 20 best tv eps this decade,” Harris tweeted, apparently in reference to another tweet lauding Dunham’s writing. “She’s human [and] made mistakes, but the pen is undeniable,” he added, perhaps in an attempt to preempt whatever criticism might ensue—though it’s doubtful he suspected just how far left it might go.
In case you happened to be taking a break from the bird app yesterday (bless your soul for having a life), the backlash was swift and broad-ranging. But #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign was perhaps the most prominent voice to call out the most oft-critiqued aspect of the “trend” Dunham helped perpetuate (not set) on television, asking: “Did any of those episodes have POC in them?”
Memorably, for all its self-awareness and rawness, in six seasons, Girls had no prominent characters of color in her Brooklyn, N.Y.-set series. That is, save for human plot devices like Donald Glover, Jessica Williams and Riz Ahmed (whose inexplicably Black-looking baby Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath gave birth to at the HBO series’ end).
That critique will likely plague Dunham’s highly popular (and yet admittedly still highly entertaining) series in perpetuity, but many folks’ issues with the creator herself run far deeper. As Reign had also alluded to the harm caused by Dunham “(on the page and off),” Harris doubled down in his defense, responding to Reign that while his intent wasn’t to dismiss, Dunham’s humanity should be considered, as should her youth while she was “learning in front of a lot of us who wanted many disparate things at once.” He then attempted to steer the conversation back to the writing, as if that should supersede all other critiques.
Reign was among many who weren’t having it. After all, of the many—many—many problematic behaviors and opinions exhibited and expressed by Dunham during what has now been over a decade in public life, the most egregious example of Dunham’s aforementioned “harm” didn’t occur on HBO. In 2017, Dunham found herself at odds with her aggressively feminist persona when she defended her friend and Girls producer Murray Miller in the face of accusations made by actress Aurora Perrineau, who alleged that Miller raped her at age 17.
The statement—unsolicited, smacking of condescension, childish, impulsive, lacking in grace and self-awareness—was quintessential Dunham. And in typical Dunham fashion, after receiving a barrage of backlash, about 24 hours later she quickly issued a public apology, chalking up her “misstep” to the well-intentioned naiveté of a 31-year-old woman.
As part of that backtracking, a year later Dunham would appear onstage alongside Perrineau’s mother, Brittany Perrineau, at The Hollywood Reporter’s 2018 Women in Entertainment Power 100 luncheon. There, she publicly apologized for her lack of support for Perrineau, an appearance that coincided with an op-ed she’d penned for THR which also acknowledged the damage done by her denial.
And so I made a terrible mistake. ... There are few acts I could ever regret more in this life. I didn’t have the “insider information” I claimed but rather blind faith in a story that kept slipping and changing and revealed itself to mean nothing at all. I wanted to feel my workplace and my world were safe, untouched by the outside world (a privilege in and of itself, the privilege of ignoring what hasn’t hurt you) and I claimed that safety at cost to someone else...
Like her or not, there was a teachable moment—and even some measure of grace—in Dunham’s attempt to recoup for her dismissal of someone’s lived experience. Unfortunately, Harris took another route in response to finding himself trending alongside Dunham for hours on Twitter. While not mentioning her by name, Harris positioned himself as an advocate for Perrineau—who he referred to as “one of [his] oldest friends”—by turning the tables on his detractors, suggesting they might be triggering her by bringing her into the debate over Dunham’s character.
“This is fully crazy but just want to let some of you know that if you actually care about a survivor of sexual assault (who’s also one of my oldest friends) please stop posting her full name, potentially re-triggering her and clogging her search with more reminders of that event,” Harris tweeted, adding: “You might still be triggered by what was said during the [aftermath] but know that you don’t know all the levels of atonement and healing that are still ongoing in the situation. And perhaps respect the survivor by keeping her name out of your umbrage.”
And this is where Aurora’s father, Harold Perrineau, entered the chat.
“[Jeremy O. Harris] Shut your FUCKING MOUTH!” tweeted the acclaimed actor, his response also reaching Dunham, who was tagged in Harris’ original post. “After introducing 2 teenage girls to 35-year-old Murray Miller and lying right to my face that night?! Nobody wants to hear from you!!! The safety of Black women has NEVER been important to you!”
There’s a lot to unpack here: How Harris’ attempt to shame those at odds with his opinion backfired; how nobody (likely especially Dunham) asked for his opinion on this topic in the first place; how Twitter never forgets—and how a father definitely never does. Perhaps most disturbing is that Harris’ unsolicited praise for Dunham devolved into him seemingly being implicated in facilitating the conditions that resulted in his friend’s eventual assault.
We’re not here to litigate that last point—that’s between the Perrineaus and Harris. However, perhaps this entire airing out could’ve been avoided if Harris had heeded the example of his “good sis” in the first place, instead of tweeting the following after his initial praise: “It’s also obvious how few of y’all have met or interacted [with] her because her generosity knows no bounds. And I’m constantly grateful to have met her when I did. I’ve said it a thousand times but she inspired me to start writing aggressively and not passively in secret.” (Of note: Zola star Taylour Paige also inserted herself here to cosign Harris with the tweet: “I love this song. YES. she’s a beyond wonderful soul. After the backlash against Harris, she cryptically tweeted: “The marginalized marginalize the marginalized.” OK, girl.)
It’s wonderful to know that despite what Girls may have suggested, Dunham really does have Black friends—and that she’s helped to put them on and perhaps even elevate them. (That’s what we call “growth.”) Aside from the fact that no, most of us haven’t met or engaged with Lena Dunham, that doesn’t preclude anyone from their feelings about her very public transgressions. Nor does it invalidate experiences that may run contrary to those of her inner circle; a lesson she painfully learned while defending Miller.
Harris has not publicly responded to the elder Perrineau. In fact, his only subsequent tweets as of this writing have been an unrelated retweet and a visual of himself seemingly living his best life in what appears to be a coastal Mediterranean city—which again, may not have unilaterally evoked the desired response. (Or, if the intent was to further provoke—not exactly a foreign concept to Harris—perhaps it did.)
So, what have we learned here, kids?
- It is entirely OK to enjoy things in silence. You don’t even have to consider it a guilty pleasure, just consider that everything you like isn’t worth broadcasting.
- Like who you like, and love who love, but publicly linking yourself to folks who have proven problematic could result in you being labeled problematic as well.
- Yes, everyone is human, but everyone is also entitled to their opinion—and Twitter doesn’t care about your feelings or your faves.
- Your experience of a person doesn’t negate the experiences of others.
- (For Taylour: yes, the marginalized might marginalize the marginalized, but the privileged definitely privilege the privileged.)
- When in doubt, STOP TWEETING—or, in the words of Harold Perrineau: “Shut your FUCKING MOUTH!”
That’s it for today’s lesson in social media etiquette; but really, the only feelings we’re invested in here are Aurora Perrineau’s.
Updated: Thursday, 7/22/21 at 6:01 p.m., ET: On Thursday, Jeremy O. Harris directly addressed Tuesday’s controversy—and specifically, the online exchange with Harold Perrineau. Harris stated that he’d had a “really amazing” yet understandably “private” conversation with Harold and wife Brittany Perrineau, intended to “clarify” the “Twitter insanity.” Most importantly, Harris restated his alliance with Aurora Perrineau, embedding a tweet thread from last December which alluded to both their longtime friendship and the events of the evening of her assault. Most importantly, Harris made a renewed plea for justice in the aftermath of her allegations, writing “JUSTICE FOR AURORA.”