Does HBO’s ‘Girls’ Expose TV’s Race Problem?

by Britni Danielle

Last week I asked if you would be tuning into HBO’s new series Girls, which some have hailed as the best show of the year. While some of you said you would be tuning in to watch, the majority seemed to reject the depiction of four twenty-something white women struggling to make it in New York City.

One commenter, Connie, summed up the thoughts of many, writing, “i am so tired of these all white shows speaking for the lot of us, there are girls of all color going through the same things couldn’t a little of that been put on displayed on this show. As a NY’er I am beyond pissed that they are not doing my city justice, NY is more diverse than this culturally.”

It seems like Clutchettes weren’t the only ones critical of the lack of diversity on Girls. Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart wrote that although could totally relate to the show’s content as a young woman who grew up in New York and struggled to make it as a writer, she couldn’t relate to the show’s intentional lack of diversity.

She explains: “I, too am a black woman who grew up in New York. I went to both public and prep schools. I, too, have been a struggling twentysomething writer. And yet. The world in which Hannah and her friends inhabit seems familiar, except for its complete lack of diversity.”

Kendra James of Racialicious takes it a but further, noting she went to college with the show’s creator and star Lena Dunham and knows that her world was much more diverse than its on-camera depiction.

James writes:

We’re both graduates of Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH, where we were separated by two years. Dunham majored in creative writing, while I majored in cinema studies and anthropology. We weren’t friends at Oberlin, and we weren’t acquaintances, but it’s a tiny school; I could have picked her out of a crowd by her tattoos alone. Like the character Dunham plays on Girls, Hannah, I spent almost two years after graduating toiling in a thankless, underpaid internship in my desired industry.

Here came the confusion: If Lena Dunham and I come from similar educational backgrounds, honed our writing and narrative skills at the same school (and likely with some of the same professors), and grew up spending time in the same city (she’s from Tribeca, and I was a bridge-and-tunnel kid from a nice New Jersey suburb about 30 minutes away), then how could we conceive such radically different images of New York City? Why would I feel so ill-at-ease with her critics essentially declaring her as my voice?

Girls falls into the trap of aiming to speak for “all,” young, wananabe creatives trying to make it in the big city, but what happens when that depiction leaves out a huge portion of the demographic?

In their world, Asians are only good for computer-related help (the lone Asian on the first episode was good with Photoshop), and black and Latina women are only fit to fall into tired old stereotypes (Racialicious uncovered the show’s casting documents requesting a loud, bossy Latina and a Jamaican Nanny). But this doesn’t mirror real life.

After criticism of the lack of diversity came to light, some felt the need to push back, wondering why people of color need to be included in “stories about thin white girls.” But as Stewart points out, this rationale–that white women should be able to share their stories sans diversity (despite living in a diverse city) simply because blacks and people of color have (very few) outlets to share their stories–sets up a separate but equal situation. And as we know, the glut of “white” shows far outweighs whatever Tyler Perry or BET could ever create.

So now what?

While it remains to be seen if Girls will become more diverse, this is just another reason for people of color to support those who care about sharing our stories and how we are incorporated them into the glorious fabric of our country.

  • Bee

    I won’t be tuning in. I’ve lost interest in HBO, which is one of the whitest networks on TV (not to mention white-male dominated). I’m still pissed that they didn’t continue the Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (not enough whiteness I suppose). Once TrueBlood ends (and believe me, I almost stopped watching that show last season and the season before), I’m probably done with HBO. They don’t even try to be diverse and representative of this country on that network. Smh.

  • Dreaming

    No, this show doesn’t expose TV’s race problem because we knew about it BEFORE this show was ever thought of.

  • http://www.chicnoirhouse.blogspot.com Chic Noir

    I take girls for what it is. I watched this show, and I thought it was okay or 3.5 stars out of 5. The lead actress, Lena looks like the average white woman you see you walking the streets(outside of Manhattan). This in itself is very refreshing as we usually see very thin cute or pretty women on TV or the movies. Larger White women are in movies for comedic relief.

    We Blks, can develop our own shows. Awkward Blk grl and the other blk casted web shows are a testament to this. We don’t need to look to others to for us what we can do for ourselves. We’ve got to stop begging other people to love and accept us and do everything for us. It’s makes us look like a race of beggers and it’s not a healthy thing for young blk children to see.

    Furthermore, I rather Girls not cast any blks in major roles if the blk characters would follow the usual stereotypical blk types like “sassy blk friend”.

    BTW, you guys should check out Medicine for Melancholy.

  • chanela

    Okay but they DID add a few more minorities then people would complain about tokenism -_-

  • apple

    i almost related to this show when i lived in nyc as an intern except there was tons of more diversity and every had more stories than being privileged white people who parents pay for their life, but i will admit there was much more of “Girls” like this in nyc i was around (i interned at a fashion magazine)

  • http://www.chicnoirhouse.blogspot.com Chic Noir

    Apple for myself and African Mami, please start a blog. You’ve got me so curious as I can imagine you have some exciting stories to tell. Just make the blog an anonymous blog and don’t include any real name but do start writing ASAP.

  • Nope aka Thatstlphoenix

    Okay I agree completely with you that we need to support shows like awkward black girl but my problem is this (and this is a general comment for all), while we are supporting our own, our own’s voices are still relegated to being placed in this moniker of invisibility.

    The reality here is, many of us watch cable TV and when we are not watching TVOne or BET we are watching the same channels as every day America is watching which are NBC, FOX, ABC, then HBO etc. Why must our voices be relegated to that of BET and TVOne only? Why must we accept being placed in token roles as the sassy black friend, for the black guy and white guy buddy role? We have the same stories such as Girls, or Gossip Girl, we are not all monolithic in our tales (we are not only The Game or Girlfriends). Why can we not have shows on these networks or be casted predominantly in shows like Supernatural or Modern Family? Why must we accept our stories being told via webblogs?

    That’s my annoyance with American TV. I’m immersing myself in everything BBCAmerica. I love it, but though they too have similar issues such as we do with color and television, I must give it to BBC they seem more diverse then we are in their images of color. I find that interesting and problematic for a country such as ours.

    Anyhoo. Still not watching that show and that is just my generalizing opinion. Glad I’m not the only one who felt slighted and I do not need to be vindicated by others, but I do deserve to see our stories be respected and depicted in ALL forms of media.

  • amarie

    I watched and thought it was decent and can relate in some ways. Like Chic Noir said, I’d rather they not include us if they’re going to throw us in a stereotypical role to meet a quota. I’m not mad at the creator. Her experiences are her experiences. Sometimes you have to take things for what they are. I’m so excited to see us doing it for ourselves with shows like ABG and films like Pariah and Middle of Nowhere.

  • http://cupofjo-jo.blogspot.com bk chick

    I think if they called the show “White girls” that would solve the problem.

  • apple

    @chicnoir i have several blogs but i never write about my life/experience/me..i dont think anyone would want to read it if i did!

  • http://www.chicnoirhouse.blogspot.com Chic Noir got dollars

    http://jezebel.com/5903382/why-we-need-to-keep-talking-about-the-white-girls-on-girls

    Dodoi from Jezebel wrote something about girls but from her angle I get the “please accept us WP” angle which bothers me. I think we as Blk people may have to come to accept that a large number of Whites, not all for sure, have no issue with being in an “whitopia” and that we as blk people must get over it and learn to look out for ourselves.

  • http://blackgirlmd.wordpress.com blackgirlmd

    i had no desire to watch the show b/c i feel as thought it has been done before. in a number of different ways. this show isn’t creative. i don’t think these girls’ lives are as interesting as they seem to think they are.

  • http://beyondblackwhite.com/ Jamila

    Here is the problem: When a show is made about women/girls in NY, then the show should be about all types of girls/women in NY. Why is it that white women are just women, but if a show is centered around black women then rather than the show being titled ‘Girls’ it would have been titled ‘Black Girls’ ?.

    When shows like ‘Girls’ are put on TV there is the presumption that the white experience is the predominant experience, the normal experience ((hence the reason why no one put the word “white” in the title because it is presumed that they are white), but when apparently black women do not have the ‘normal/universal’ experience.

    I won’t be watching ‘Girls’.

  • The Black People

    Stop it. Please, stop it.

    Black people, please stop this. (I am black)

    This show is about four white girls and the life they live. What is the problem? Mus t they go out of their way to create an artificial character of “color”? Is it SO HARD to believe that a circle of four white girl friends exists?

    I’d rather then not try to inject a forced black character into the show.

    Anyway, I just watched the show. I thought it sucked. The dialogue and pace was not my taste. It’s “realism” seems forced.

  • The Black Police*

    Stop it. Please, stop it.

    Black people, please stop this. (I am black by the way)

    This show is about four white girls and the life they live. What is the problem? Mus t they go out of their way to create an artificial character of “color”? Is it SO HARD to believe that a circle of four white girl friends exists?

    I’d rather then not try to inject a forced black character into the show.

    Anyway, I just watched the show. I thought it sucked. The dialogue and pace was not my taste. It’s “realism” seems forced.

  • H

    I agree. We sound pathetic when we constantly beg for them to include us in their shows or get upset when they don’t. We live in a world where black people will watch all white shows and relate but the opposite is not true. When white people see a show that has a majority black cast, they think it is a show for black folks rather than a show for folks. They think they will be unable to relate. That’s just the way it is.

    We have had so many opportunities to do shows like this, but BET would rather show stupid reality shows and uncreative music videos. They could put Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl on BET. Tyler Perry could support some of these writers who just need the money, but he has such an ego that he has to write, direct, and star in all of his plays and movies which are horrible. There are writers out there that have the ability to create shows that win Emmys. There are writers out ther who can create movies that will win Oscars. He, and all these other stars such as JayZ or P.Diddy with all their money could be helping writers and making money in the tv and movie business.

    The bottom line is studios aren’t going to spend money on a show that people from only 12% of the population will watch when they could simply make the cast white and more will watch. These lily white worlds do exist. I’m not going to sit around and complain like I think all white girls have at least one non-white friend. Many don’t.

  • Kfleming

    At the end of the day, it’s pointless to argue about this situation. If you want something to change don’t complain and whine about it just do it. We’ll end up rehashing this whole argument the next time some new show with little or no minority characters airs and the cycle will begin again. We need to start writing, producing and directing more of our own shows. Not just any show that’s been done before or plays on the stereotypes of people of color, but good quality programs. It’s also important that we support those who are striving to create new and innovative programming. Ok I’m done ranting now lol. Back into the shadows I go

  • Dreaming

    I don’t know, H. I have a feeling that most people who watch BET aren’t awkward Black girls/women.

  • http://www.chicnoirhouse.blogspot.com Chic Noir

    H We live in a world where black people will watch all white shows and relate but the opposite is not true. When white people see a show that has a majority black cast, they think it is a show for black folks rather than a show for folks. They think they will be unable to relate. That’s just the way it is.

    This!

    and for the life of me I don’t understand why. I watch movies and shows with White American casts as well as White French folks and Nigerians yet I am none of the above. There are some experiences that are universal to the human experience. Why cut yourself off from a show you may enjoy simply because the actors are blk.

    You are on the money about Tyler Perry. It would really be sweet if he could get some type of directors workshop co-op with Steve McQueen and Anton Fuquoa where they could mentor up and coming young blk directors and screenwriters.

    I would love to see more movies like Medicine for Melancholy and Love Jones and another great sitcom like the Cosby show.

    BET isn’t owned by us anymore but if I’m not mistaken TVOne still is. Maybe Tyler Perry and other blk filmmakers can go the owners of TVOne and try to get something going. It’s possible to make a good film on a low budget if you have a good script and decent actors.

  • Kacey

    I watch these shows purely for entertainment, not to seek representations of myself.

  • Bee

    You hit the nail on the head. Some of thee people are just living in denial land, ready to make any excuse for white racism in the media. Thank you.

  • Leo the Yardie Chick

    It’s just like with Seinfeld and Friends – really, how diverse were their depictions of New York City? In the end, though, it’s not about us. If POC media representation is what you want, I hate to break it to you (no, not really) but the mainstream outlets are not catering for you. We’ve done this song and dance before, so it ought to be very familiar.

    I’m with Chic Noir and kfleming – if we want to see more of US, we got to do it ourselves instead of waiting for the rest of the world to wake up.

  • The Black Police*

    “Here is the problem: When a show is made about women/girls in NY, then the show should be about all types of girls/women in NY.”

    Should? I agree it would be nice for it to be diverse. But is it mandatory? Absolutely not. The show is about those specific white girls. I don’t see the problem.

    “Why is it that white women are just women, but if a show is centered around black women then rather than the show being titled ‘Girls’ it would have been titled ‘Black Girls’ ?.”

    Remember, “Girlfriends” was titled as such, not “Black Girlfriends”. And who decides for race to be put in titles? You are implying that “white” people make people put race in the title if it features black people. But remember my beloved show “Awkward Black Girl” was titled of her own accord. “Single White Female” is also another example that contradicts your statement.

    I hear you and agree, diversity is great and should be seen more. But I don’t think it’s fair to force people to inject POC into their ideas if they don’t conceive them for whatever reason. Also we shouldnt conclude that they are racists.

  • QoNewC

    @H

    I dont think so. White people do watch black shows. Since moving to the UK people are always asking me about Fresh Prince of Belair and The Cosby show was a show watched by everyone. But then Fresh Prince and The Cosby show werent really black. The story lines of those two shows could fit any ethnic group which is why they have multiethnic appeal.

  • QoNewC

    @Jamila

    Except for the fact that people in real life and even in NYC segregate themselves. So a show about a group of friends who happen to be monochrome is realistic. Its PC crap to argue that social groups even in a place like NYC are racially mixed.

  • H

    @QoNewC Yea those shows are older though. The days of The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince, Family matters have passed. When I was younger, we had all those good shows to choose from with black people actually living positive lives, then came the 2000s. There were almost no majority black cast TV shows on network television. Colored people were placed in shows as the funny friend in the 2000s. I guess this makes minorities happy but also keeps from driving white people away. Also, those were comedies which I think makes a big difference. People don’t want to watch a drama.

    But I do think what you said about them being multiethnic. I think I the 2000s black people moved into glorifying the hood. White people couldn’t relate.

    It is still there though. Studios love Will Smith. He can bring in the big bucks. He appeals to white and black people, but if you cast his female lead as black, people automatically assume it is a movie for black people. Movies such as Hitch,I Robot, an Hancock were huge blockbusters.

  • QoNewC

    @H

    What about Martin? That show was very black but it was popular and had a long run.

  • NoitAll

    @bk chick. You’re absolutely right. The problem with “Girls” is that people, maybe the writers, maybe the media, seem to agree that this show supposedly represents ALL women in their 20′s struggling to make it. Clearly it does not. If it’s going to speak for ALL, it has to include ALL.

  • DFC

    Haven’t seen the show, and probably won’t watch it any time soon [it's bad enough I have to pay for cable, but I'm not paying for HBO on top of it]. But I agree with The Black Police: it would be nice if Girls was diverse, but it’s not and there’s no law that says it has to be. Four young white women in NYC who apparently don’t know any non-white people is not hard for me to believe – at all. As a black woman and a native New Yorker when I was a kid there in the 80s I saw a city that was deeply divided and segregated. And not all that much has really changed.

    This is their story. We know it’s a lame depiction of a very diverse town, but it’s how the group of white folks in charge of the show see [or more accurately, don't see] NYC. Their loss.

    If we want our story told, we’ll have to tell it. And support those artists who see non-white folks everywhere like Tyler Perry, Shonda Rimes, Salma Hayek, Mira Nair, and the creative genius behind “Awkward Black Girl” who’s name escapes me right now, to name just a few.

  • Sankofa

    I saw it. I expected more. I wanted to see a group of Liz Lemon-y characters for the 20 something set. I thought it was gonna feature women from all different walks of life trying to make it. What I got was a 30 minute whine-fest. Complaining about having to grow up. Expensive restaurants, trendy apartments, treating people like shit and constant nagging. I didn’t see much of myself or many of the women I know at all. I’ll watch the next few episodes before I completely dismiss it. Lena is really talented and the writing has so much potential, but they just need to do (alot) more…

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  • Tiffany

    I guess I am in the minority (wouldn’t be the first time), but I thought the show was great. I went to school with girls like this, and they did run around in pasty packs whining about their privileged existences. I also love how all of the actresses on the show have benefited from nepotism, this is another authentic characteristic of this ilk that the show champions. Face it people, life isn’t a college recruitment brochure cover: you aren’t going to always see every race and demographic represented in everything. That is real life. We don’t have to bash this show to have a real dialogue about why there aren’t more shows with POC on them.

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  • StopWhinningChrist

    Whooo, wait a second everyone, jeeze. No one was complaining when “The Cosby Show” ran and when “A Different World” – just (2) quick and easy examples – many, many more just like that over the years (“Family Matters” – Urkel anyone!?). Why? Because dummy, the cast was 100% Black and White folks were like, who cares, those are great shows. Dang black people just can’t stop complaining, on just about ANYTHING! Black kid gets shot by anyone besides a Black and all hell breaks loose with y’all, but if it’s Black on Black – f* it who cares right? Isn’t that y’alls absolute mentality??? Raise hell b/c you all are still being brought down by the man. If it’s a white that fits, but if it’s a black-on-black, what’s there to complain about right? There SHOULD be, a person lost their life!!!! What about all the material Tyler Perry puts out (TV shows, Movies, etc) – he casts ALL Blacks and you’ll be hard pressed to find blogs like this bitching about it. Why? Because dummy, the cast is 100% Black and White folks just don’t whine about dumb sh&t like you all do. Someone on here stated that she went through all what the characters are going through and she’s Black, so why not include some of that in the show? Well, the easy answer is: “Because they don’t have to.”, see the story is about these particular girls and they happen to all be White – deal with it. It’s the same explanation as to why Tyler Perry can’t see any other color than Black and so he casts his characters as such. Here’s something else to chew on, Blacks only make up 12.3% of the total population in the US (via the 2010 census – that includes children as well). So being such a LOW percentage, you all think you should be included in EVERYTHING huh? Yeah that’s makes complete f’ing sense to me – Nope, no it doesn’t. Another tid bit to leave you with, start watching commercials and most ALL TV shows and tell me there are more shows that have 100% white casts than 100% black casts. There aren’t – so I’m calling BULL SH*T on all of you complainers and whiners. If you don’t like the demographic of the show – do like me – look down at your remote. There’s a button called: “Channel Up/Down” – push it, you’ll be amazed at what it does. Racism goes both ways people and you’re only helping PROVE that!

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