Lena Dunham Addresses WhiteGate

One of the major issues people have had with HBO’s muchmuchmuch-discussed new series “Girls” is the lack of diversity in the cast. The four leads in the show are all white, and even outside of them the depiction of New York is much more vanilla than some would like. The show’s creator, Lena Dunham, addressed the issue in a recent interview NPR’s 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. 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.” [NPR]

I think both sides certainly make some fair points. On one hand, it would be nice to have a more accurate portrayal of the diversity in New York, and it would be even better to do it on a show that aims to discuss the female experience in such an inclusive manner. On the other hand, I don’t know if it would help very much to have someone who can’t speak accurately to those experiences putting words in people’s mouths. That’s how you end up with stuff like a gangster rapper named “Felony Rick” on some dumb police procedural, or Michael Bay writing a pair of jive-talking robots into Transformers. I think the important thing here is that Lena Dunham has heard the criticism, and she seems to be taking it very seriously, which is a hell of a lot more than you can say for the showrunner of “2 Broke Girls.”