It happened by accident. I was lying on the reclining chair, covered by a blanket, flicking through the channels on cable TV when I came across HBO’s new series ‘Girls’. Of course I had heard about the show–rave reviews here and there, praise for the shows creator Lena Dunham, and complaints that there were no non-white girls amongst the shows ‘girls.’
In that instant I decided to take a chance on ‘Girls’ to see if the hype surrounding the show was real. Full confession: I had previously said I would not watch the show since there were no non-white characters, and thus, I didn’t think the show would capture my attention. An odd opinion of me to have, considering that one of my favorite shows of all-time was ‘Sex and the City,’ another hit HBO series starring four white women. At least the white women of ‘Girls’ were in my age range.
By the time ‘Girls’ was going off, I had to admit it: I liked the show. There was one sequence where one of the main characters met a guy at a party and they decided to take a walk together. When they end up at a spot where the scenery and vibe is just right for the two of them to kiss, she tells him that she can’t kiss him. The guy looks unperturbed by her statement. He closes the distance between them and says “And I want you to know, the first time I fuck you, I might scare you a little. Because I’m a man, and I know how to do things. See ya later” before walking off. What does the girl from ‘Girls’ do? She runs to the nearest bathroom to masturbate. Not saying that I would ever do such a thing as running off to the bathroom to masturbate after a cool, sexy guy comes close to me and makes an astounding statement–ahem–I’m just saying that I can definitely relate to that feeling, OK?.
The characters of the show are quirky and like-able. I really couldn’t find fault with ‘Girls’ other than the fact that there was no person of color–and honestly, can it truly be considered a ‘fault’ that there are no black people around when everything else about the show is so superb?
Lena Dunham, the show’s creator-slash-writer-slash-executive producer-slash-lead character responded honestly when asked about the lack of diversity on the show:
“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.”
The fear that some white writers feel when it comes to trying to accurately portray non-white characters is real. If these writers try and subsequently fail to write a realistic black character then they could be called racist and insensitive. No one wants their head served up on a platter just for attempting to step outside of their comfort zone. This just reinforces the need for more black writers and directors to come to Hollywood.
But while we are waiting on more quality shows to be made featuring non-white actresses, it’s not fair to bash talented writers, who just happen to be white, for writing about what they know–and being good at it.
If you haven’t given ‘Girls’ a chance because you feel the show lacks diversity, you might want to rethink that decision. Dunham has created a quality show and it deserves to be rejected (or enjoyed) based it’s merits, not whether or not a token black person was included in order to satisfy those whose bread-and-butter comes from counting how many black people make an appearance on a given television show.