Amid the heaping vat of Girls-related blog outrage stew, show creator/star/writer Lena Dunham has remained relatively mum regarding her show's much criticized/discussed treatment of race. Her response to the criticism that minority characters on the new HBO series are relegated to small, stereotypical roles while four white women feature front and center was simply that this was "a complete accident." Unsatisfied with that answer, the internet droned on with the debate for a few more weeks. But now, finally, Dunham has clarified her statement in a new interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross.
Asked about the controversy, Dunham responded:
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.
So, OK. A fairly measured and thoughtful enough response — both an admission of some guilt and a reasonable defense of her (sub)conscious motivations — that isn't likely to stir up much more controversy. Which, actually, could be detrimental to her show, as it's largely fed off of controversy in the month since it debuted.
Dunham goes on to say in this concise, occasionally enlightening, often placating interview that, in the second season, the world of the show will expand and that inevitably actors of color will be featured in more prominent ways. She also discusses the issues of awkward sex, of female empowerment, and of nepotistic privilege, all of which also served as lightning rods when this show — which itself is pretty lo-fi and un-invasive when you actually watch it — premiered to great cacophony. If you want to feel absolved in your Dunham fandom, give it a listen. If you are sick of being angry at Girls and Dunham and want to hear her sound earnest and articulate enough to assuage some of your anger, give it a listen. If you want to hear Terry Gross talk about sex a lot, definitely also give it a listen.