Yesterday Terry Gross did a lengthy interview on NPR's "Fresh Air" with Lena Dunham, the 25-year-old creator of the hit HBO show "Girls." The show has drawn criticism because its four characters are all white women, 20-somethings in New York. And Gross's interview made news for Dunham's acknowledgement that she will seek greater diversity in the next season.
Below are two excerpts from the interview, which I think demonstrate important social attitudes. First, Dunham says that she was writing what she knows, and wanted to be "super-specific" to her own experience, and that world is half-WASP, half-Jewish. So she really didn't know anything about a diverse racial experience, and didn't think to put it in the show.
The second excerpt involves Dunham's sensitivity to gay people's experience. She knows a lot of gay people; and she calls her character in the show "liberal and enlightened" on gay issues, but also with traces of homophobia.
The social attitudes exhibited here are the elite attitudes that I shared till I threw myself into Palestinian solidarity work. The American establishment today is a mingled Jewish-WASP one (my wife and I are typical), in which being enlightened means being thoughtful about gays. But that extension of spirit doesn't really include people of color. It's just outside the frame. And don't expect to see any Arab-Americans in the cast... Dunham:
You know, I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs, like I really - and something I wanted to avoid was sort of tokenism in casting and not speaking - you know, if I had one of the four girls, for example, if she was African-American, I feel like, you know, not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl living in Brooklyn are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience and specificity that at this point I wasn't able to speak to. And so I thought about it, I really wrote the show from sort of a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me and/or based on, you know, someone very close to me. And only later did I realize that it was four white girls. And so as much as I can say it was an accident, it was an accident, but I also later, as the criticism came out, I thought: I hear this and I want to respond to it. And I also, you know, the show - I don't know if this - I want - 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, and I want to avoid, you know, kind of classic network tokenism in casting because although I think that people of color are severely underrepresented on TV, I'm not sure that that's always the solution. That being said, you know, as I said in an interview with Huffington Post, like, now we have the opportunity to do a second season, and believe me, that will be remedied. I'm really excited to introduce new characters into the world of the show, and some of them are really great actors of color, and some of them are white actors, and we're going to continue to try to tell really honest stories, but the world of the show is definitely growing more diverse....
I was really hoping that my, you know, my gay male friends - of which I have many - would find it hilarious and not think that I was, you know, that I was expressing my own deep-rooted homophobia because it was really important to me to look at the honest way that an - even though Hannah is an enlightened, liberal girl probably thinks about gay men as her target audience, she still is not pleased to find out that she was dating one.