I'm Done Hating on Lena Dunham

I thought, how could Lena do something so narrow, so exclusive? And then I actually watched the show.

May 14, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

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I know this is dramatic, but I almost rear -ended the car in front of me when I saw a giant billboard of Lena Dunham and the rest of the cast of "Girls" when I was driving around Hollywood.  

I had a visceral reaction to seeing these four white girls blown up and magnified and seemingly smirking at me as I drove past.  

Though I’d heard about Lena Dunham and the show several months prior, seeing a visual of the cast stirred many emotions in me.  And none of them were comforting.

I, like many other brown girls and non-brown girls, was shocked and angry that in 2012 yet another television show set in New York didn’t feature any actors of color in the lead roles.  And I directed that anger, that wagging finger of blame to the figurehead of it all -- the writer/creator/lead actress, Lena Dunham. I thought, how could Lena do something so narrow, so exclusive?

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The cast of Awkward Black Girl.

And then I watched the pilot. And my anger swelled again. Like several other people, I wondered, where was the diversity that I see in New York City every time I visit?  Who were these spoiled, white girls and how could anyone other than spoiled, white girls relate to them?  

I was so upset that the Angela Davis in me decided that I was done with "Girls." I was going to boycott it. Take that, Lena Dunham, I exclaimed.  I will NEVER EVER for as long as I live watch your show again.

And then a funny thing happened. 

I was watching "Veep," and "Girls" just kind of came on after it, and I kind of didn’t turn the channel like I was supposed to. I watched the first few minutes and then all of a sudden, the credits were rolling and I had watched the entire second episode.

So naturally, the hater/activist in me was in denial about why I watched the whole thing. I justified it as, “Well, if I’m gonna talk shit about Girls, I need to know what it’s about.” Uh-huh.

And each week since, I’ve watched "Veep" and accidentally left it on HBO for "Girls." By episode 3, despite myself, I was laughing out loud at several scenes.  

My favorite was when Hanna (played by Lena) confronts an ex-boyfriend who is now gay.  That scene was well-written, hysterical…and, dare I say it, relatable. At that point, I had to admit it. I was really starting to dig "Girls." A lot.

During the whole uprising against "Girls" and Lena Dunham, I obsessively read all the comments that followed the articles. In my obsessive reading, I found that a lot of Lena Dunham defenders were saying that people of color need to stop whining about the need to have diversity in everything. That Lena should be allowed to tell her own story and if people of color aren’t in her world, why should she force them to be?

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Behind the scenes at ABG.

And truthfully, I think there’s some validity in that.  As a writer/producer of the web series, Awkward Black Girl, I’ve had to defend a lot of decisions we’ve made in our own creative process. Even though our cast is primarily of color, we still get complaints about it not being diverse enough.  “Where’s the gay character?  Really?  No, Latinas in LA?”

Through firsthand experience of dealing with criticism, I’ve had to learn the same lesson that Lena learned recently: You just can’t please everyone.  And you shouldn’t try to.

But there’s one comment that I read a lot that really bugged me -- the  suggestion that people of color should just do their own show.

We’ve thought of that, believe me.  

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Me and ABG creator and co-producer Issa Rae at a panel during our national college tour

It’s not that we don’t want a show like "Girls," it’s not that we aren’t actively writing and pitching shows just like 'Girls," and it’s definitely not that there are no female writers of color that equal Lena Dunham in talent. It’s that, unfortunately, race and class are still huge barriers to overcome and Hollywood often doesn’t allow women of color the same privileges and opportunities afforded young filmmakers like Ms. Dunham.  

But that isn’t Lena’s fault. It’s a problem that existed before her and a problem that will exist after her unless we find a way to change it.

The same reason the show has faced so much heat is the same reason that it works. Because it’s coming from a place of honesty and truth. After just a few episodes, Lena Dunham has earned herself a new fan in me. I don’t have any beef with her and in fact, I think if we ever met, I might become the black friend she can write about in season two.

Simply put, "Girls" is a show about Lena’s experiences and women like her. It’s not a show about all girls.  And it doesn’t have to be. Lena has the right to tell her own stories. Just like I have the right to tell mine.

The only difference is that my stories aren’t airing on HBO -- yet.