As soon as I can embed the chat here, I will. but I’ll be talking this week’s episode of Girls and beyond with Anna Holmes in a live chat at the Guardian starting here at 2PM.
I’m glad we’re going to be having this conversation on the day that Lena Dunham finally speaks up about the criticisms of the show’s approach to diversity in a long interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. On the question of the core cast, she says:
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.
I think this is precisely the kind of attitude that both comes from a place of deep respect and concern about speaking for others, and can end up being deeply limiting for a writer. It’s a very complex path to walk between avoiding appropriating someone else’s life experience and treating that life experience as if it’s so potentially different that you couldn’t possibly understand any aspect of it. Respectful difference, taken too far, can get a little fetishistic. I’m not saying that’s what Dunham is doing here, but it’s definitely a dynamic that I think could lead to white writers feeling hesitant to write characters of color.