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'Girls'' Lena Dunham on racism, Louis C.K., criticism of the show

October 08, 2012|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Lena Dunham speaks with the New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum at the New Yorker Festival.
Lena Dunham speaks with the New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum at the New… (Amy Sussman )

NEW YORK--Lena Dunham found her show "Girls" under criticism earlier this year for an absence of minority characters. The controversy only mushroomed after, in an apparent bid to make light of the issue, "Girls" writer Lesley Arfin tweeted sarcastically that she didn't think "Precious" offered a representation of her either.

At an event Sunday hosted by the New Yorker and its TV critic Emily Nussbaum, Dunham offered some context on the incident. After saying that Arfin had actually no longer worked on the show at the time she sent the tweet, Dunham elaborated on what was happening on the "Girls" set during the controversy.

 "It was the elephant in the corner of the room," the "Girls" creator said. "I felt like people were scared to talk about it [because] they'd get my racist juice all over them."

She added, "The argument there are not enough minority characters to represent New York--that I couldn't argue against. What I didn't like was the angle that 'therefore you are a racist, you are raised by racists, you come from a world of class and privilege.'"

She said she didn’t come out and make a statement at the time because she didn’t feel like it was her place to take responsibility for something someone else said and, on top of that, “I really felt like for me to add fuel to that fire could add weeks…to that conversation.” [And] I'm not interested in doing a public firing,” she added.

Love her or hate her, Dunham has shaken up the TV world and offered a generation of women reassurance that someone is speaking to, and for, them. Sitting at the panel about "Girls" felt a little like living in an episode of “Girls”--a feeling that was enhanced when a young woman with a naïve uptalk reminiscent of Zosia Mamet's Shosh character on the show stood up to tell Dunham that she really identified with Zosia Mamet's Shosh character on the show.

Below, a few other thoughts Dunham offered about the HBO phenomenon--in which she plays aspiring writer and frustrated-in-love Brooklynite Hanna Horvath--and the public reaction to it.

On the relationship between her life and the life of her character:

"A lot of people assume what Hanna actually wants is the life I have now... My advice is 'Keep doing it, girl.' I know she's a mess and she's exhausting but I think her Unsinkable Molly Brown quality will serve her well."

On putting real life into "Girls":

"With certain people you make the calculation 'You'll be [peeved] if I write this, but I kind of don't care because my work is more important to me than knowing you.”

On the contention that her show depicts entitled women:

"The criticism that disappointed me was the privilege and nepotism of things. It’s upsetting and confusing...I have plenty of counterarguments to that but it’s not elegant to share them...I’ve had summer jobs since I was 12 but I can’t come out and say that.”

On how much attention she pays to skeptics:

“I'm in therapy since I was 7 so I thought I'd cornered the market on self-criticality…As an artist I want to shelter myself in a safe place to work in...but as an executive producer I need to open myself up to people’s responses…[So] I dabble in press. I pick and choose. I have a Mom with a Google alert who will forward things to me."

On Louis C.K.:

“I'm intimidated by Louis. He really has this [expletive] this scene [attitude]. I saw him get out of his seat 11 times at the Emmys…His approach to all of this is really interesting…He came over and gave me a hug and said ‘What you're doing is really important.’ I said, ‘I dressed as you for Halloween.’”

On her character’s state of undress on the show:

“Sometimes it's a crutch because me being naked people find funny for some reason…But I also love every movie in the '70s where you just see a woman getting out of bed and you casually see a nipple…In James L. Brook’s ‘How Do You Know,’ Reese Witherspoon woke up with a guy, she spent the night in a negligee. I couldn’t handle that.”

On body image and society generally:

"It completely sickens me what our culture is doing to women. Last week I wore a big top and little shorts and a bunch of stuff came out saying I was without pants. ‘The No-Pants Look,’ it said. And I didn’t go out without pants, I had shorts on…If Olivia Wilde had gone to a party with a big silky top and little shorts she might have been told her outfit was cute…What it was really: ‘Why did you show us your thighs’”?

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