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.
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.