‘Girls’ Gets Its First Black Woman

by Yesha Callahan

'Girls' Gets Its First Black Woman- Danielle Brooks

In a recent interview with Ebony, Danielle Brooks, who stars as Taystee on Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, revealed that she’s recently been cast on HBO’s Girls. 

“I just shot an episode of ‘Girls’ for HBO,” Brooks told Ebony when asked about what’s next for her. “I will be the first black woman to be on ‘Girls,’ so that’s exciting for me.”

As some may recall, Girls came under fire for it’s lack of “diversity” even though the show is about 20-somethings coming of age in New York City. During an interview with NPR,  Lena Dunham defended her decision as to why the cast wasn’t diverse:

I take that criticism very seriously. … This show isn’t supposed to feel exclusionary. It’s supposed to feel honest, and it’s supposed to feel true to many aspects of my experience. But for me to ignore that criticism and not to take it in would really go against my beliefs and my education in so many things. And I think the liberal-arts student in me really wants to engage in a dialogue about it, but as I learn about engaging with the media, I realize it’s not the same as sitting in a seminar talking things through at Oberlin. Every quote is sort of used and misused and placed and misplaced, and I really wanted to make sure I spoke sensitively to this issue.

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.

Although Dunham didn’t add any black woman characters after the backlash,  Donald Glover was added to the cast as her character’s love interest.    I will be honest and say I was a little perturbed after watching the first season of Girls, but when I thought about it, if I were to write a television show about my circle of friends, it probably wouldn’t have any white women in it either. It would be more like Girlfriends, and not even close to gentrification.

Brooks didn’t give any other details about her role on Girls, so it’ll be interesting to see how her character is written. Dunham previously said she wasn’t able to speak to that aspect of life so may she buckled under the pressure of diversifying the cast? Since Brooks’ character on Orange Is The New Black was promoted to a recurring role, one has to wonder if the Girls role is just a “walk on” for one episode.  I guess we’ll all be speculating until the new season airs in January 2014. Personally, I’m looking forward to season 3, with or without a black character.

 (h/t Apple from the comment section)

What do you think about the addition of a black character on Girls?

  • http://www.lillian-mae.com Knotty Natural

    I don’t watch ‘Girls’ but I have heard the chatter about the lack of diversity…which doesn’t bother me, as I know diversity isn’t apart of everyone’s life. This seems forced.

  • Angelique212

    Well you all asked for it. I don’t know why black folks were dying to get onto a show that does not know how to be honorable towards characters of color.

    Yes, I have no doubts they cast this woman… It was probably between her and “Crazy Eyez”. They surely were not going to cast the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, nouveau Harlem, Lincoln Center, West 4th/Union Square, Midtown, Park Ave/Houston, Wall Street or even Fort Greene type of Black woman…. they chose this one… and they’ve been choosing this one almost all of my life. You can’t even be mad at them… just mad at those that expected something more.

    Not really looking forward to the article on “Girls” and their “treatment” of this character which is bound to happen, but I’m REALLY looking forward to an article that focuses not on the industry, but on the actresses who fill these types of roles… what they gain individually on the backs of a collective, and what they really represent and how few of us they reflect.

  • L

    if there’s no black girls: it’s not diverse

    one black included: it’s tokenism

    multiple or all blacks included: it gets labeled as ghetto or we dont support it to keep it running

    Seriously, I dont get what people want these days. It seems Some blacks are never satisfied.

  • Phillygurl

    I have zero desire to see this even with a black cast member. I puts me to mind when they did the all black cast remake of Steel Magnolias. It’s as if we don’t have our own experiences to tell. I for one can’t wait until Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl premiers on HBO and am looking forward to other TV series and movies reflecting black experiences.

  • Kaeli

    I have watched both and “Orange is the New Black” is a much better show. Hopefully she is only doing a few shows because her character is really great and well developed on Orange. If “Girls” actually reflects the BS that white female hipsters do to their black friends I can already see how that mess is going to go:

    - Help me find black men
    - Listen to all my problems
    - We can only be friends if you don’t look better than me, can’t ever find a man (especially a white one), and never get any attention when we go out
    - “I don’t see color”, “I don’t even see you as black”, “You’re different”

  • http://ladyngo.blogspot.com Lady Ngo

    I care less about Girls and more about why black actors, producers, directors aren’t given opportunities to tell their own stories. That’s the kind of representation i want to see. Not random black person thrown into all-white sitcom/drama/comedy/etc because we caused a fuss. There’s a reason why people still watch Martin, Living Single, A Different World, The Cosby show, etc as if they are new tv shows. That’s what we want to see.

  • MommieDearest

    YES!!

    This all day long!

    Also, IMO, black actors, producers and directors CAN tell their own stories if they want to. Look at Tyler Perry. His network shows aren’t my cup of tea, but they are HIS and he’s making them. There is no reason why other blacks in his position can’t follow suit. Oprah has her own network (pun intended) and I’m pretty sure that if other blacks came to her with shows/ideas she would give them an opportunity.

    We have to let go of this “please include me” mindset and blaze our own trails. It’s time.

  • Kaeli

    I am so very confused by your comment. Are you basing this on her character on Orange. It’s not like they are doing a cross over where she leaves prison and ends up rooming Lena Dunham. I am going to assume that to you the right “one” is thin and also a hipster.

  • vintage3000

    Her character’s name should be Tokenetta.

  • http://gravatar.com/hoodparvenu Nikki

    I actually like the show and love this sctress but I’m not excited about this at all. Lena Dunham herself has said that she doesn’t write diverse characters into her show because she can’t relate to our experiences. That’s the same as the rest of the Hollywood machine that cannot relate to us, thus they fall into the same stereotypical tropes over and over again. Now there’s nothing wrong with Danielle Brooks. She’s a very educated, articulate and interesting woman with incredible acting abilities. It is a shame though that most of us will assume that because of her looks that she’ll be cast as some sort of hipster mammy. And an even bigger shame is that we’ll most likely be right. SMH

  • Muse

    I’m sorry but I am very over people whining about blacks not being on this show. Why in the entire pluck do we care?? We do not need Lena Dunham’s validation.

  • MimiLuvs

    @L

    “…Seriously, I dont get what people want these days. It seems Some blacks are never satisfied.”

    Which is why I believe that if every black screenplay writer, producer or director paid attention to every bit of criticism that they receive, they wouldn’t have any products out there.
    If a person doesn’t want to receive criticism, he/she should do nothing.

  • Kaeli

    White hipster girls don’t have black female friends? They sure do and they have to to have someone to point to when they say something racist.

    Ever heard the phrase “I have tons of black friends”. They are talking about their black female friend.

    I am being sarcastic but please go back under the rock you came out of oo maybe visit a PWI or gentrified neighborhood once in awhile before saying something completely inaccurate and false.

  • Jen Jen

    …and we are. Check out the crop of web shows that are being produced by young, black artists, the number of projects being funded via kickstarter and indiegogo, or check out the work by Ava DuVuerney and her African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. They’re on the grind!

  • BeReal

    Because some black women will never miss an opportunity to complain about racist exclusionary white women who won’t let Naomi Campbell lookalikes on their show to steal the spotlight. When they do include a black woman it usually isn’t the Naomi Campbell look alike so they have reason to complain some more.

  • Entro

    Exactly. Stop wanting to be apart of their stories, tell our own, but check them when they misrepresent who we are and distort history by whitening it, ex:Cleopatra,Jesus etc

  • Me27

    I agree with Jen Jen. “We” are creating our own content and the shows are out there, you just have to know where to look. YouTube is a great source of original web series. I’ve gotten to a point where I barely turn on my television anymore. I am more likely to watch web shows over standard television shows.

    My only complaint is that we don’t seem to receive equal opportunity for network access. But, maybe that is a good thing… Web series creators have more control over their own content. I think what they really need is more viewers and people who are willing to help fund the show.

  • DEE

    I don’t like the show and not because there are no black people on it, let’s face it most shows don’t which is wrong but sometimes they’re still entertaining.

    The fact is that IMO Girls is a horrible show. The show has no plot, no story arcs, and horrible dialogue. It’s really just about an unlikable white girl and her mostly unlikable friends living and not even in an interesting way.

  • Angelique212

    … get ready to hate me.

    If you were to stand ALL the different types of Black women in a line representing those different neighborhoods, which one would you want to examine and cast and which one would “Hollywood” feel more comfortable casting based on your experience in the U.S.?

    The places I named ABOVE have numerous permutations of black women, but “Hollywood”, up until 2 years ago (pre-Red Tails) always chose the type that mirrors their “stock black woman” (think Black bus driver from “Enchanted”) – the type that Hollywood has chosen for decades. The type of black woman that would not threaten the idolatry of even the most plain looking of white woman because the biggest “sin” on television and in (white) mainstream America… is to be overweight and even though 60% of WW are (BW 76% – BM 70%), nearly ALL media representations of a trait that “mainstream” America disdains in its women, is realized through the body of Black women. They are manipulating and these actresses are being used. THAT is the issue as they have so many other options to choose ESPECIALLY when it comes to Black Women in Brooklyn and the different enclaves of Manhattan. So what if she is “cute”, she is disregarded either way… We can see her beauty, but they don’t… they use these BW bodies (and written behaviors) to continue a legacy of White female supremacy which is built on propping oneself up at the expense of another with fewer resources or privileges.

    That is my point. I’m not for this, “at least she has a job”, and although some seem to scoff at a skinny hipster black woman, WHERE do we see her on television right now? Where are my Cultural museum women? Or my vegans with their colonics? Where are my young families of teachers, designers, restauranteurs. bankers…I mean, this is Brooklyn – Greenpoint, Brooklyn at that… Fort Greene and Park Slope types I’m talking about, but Hollywood is not. I would be surprised if they characterized Brooks in any other way than what we’re used to seeing from Hollywood. That is my point, we can get side-tracked by hypersensitivities if you like, but these women are being used.

  • GlowBelle

    Well, everybody whined about it so here we go with the pandering. I’m glad that Miss Brooks is getting more gigs (love her on ‘OITNB’!), but her proclaiming to be the first Black girl on the show just made me twitch a bit, because it didn’t have to BE like this, she shouldn’t be the ‘first Black anything’ she should just be Danielle Brooks being cast on the show. I have little to no interest in ‘Girls’ after the pilot, it seemed too exclusionary for my taste…and it wasn’t cause they were White, it just didn’t speak to me.

    I don’t mind if a show has one or two people of color. I don’t watch a show to count the people who look like me, I view to be entertained and take in good storytelling. I watch ‘New Girl’ which I feel handles their of color cast members a bit better as they are people first…this is what is lost on a lot of writers, they act like people of color are a new species when *surprise* we do and experience the same as a White person…it’s just the way we do and react to them may be different. We need to keep on creating, writing, and pushing the envelope and stop stereotyping in our works. OITNB proved that female stories from all walks of life can be told, as well as shows like Cosby and Living Single proving that they weren’t exclusively for Black people to watch…diversity can be done much more quietly and with more class than this.

  • Marisa

    Wow who knew black people lived in NYC lol, congrats to the young lady I hope she is not reduced to white character hand holding like so many before her. Also I thought the head of this show stated the complaints about lack of diversity didn’t bother her, this is a switch.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    This show missed the boat with me a long time ago so nothing is going to renewed my interest in it regardless if they add a black character or not. Personally I think adding a black character is probably this show’s “Friends” moment. Furthermore, I don’t think people attacked Girls solely based on the criticism that their weren’t black characters, because there are plenty of shows people love that has a predominately or all white cast but the way this show was marketed rubbed me the wrong way and how Lena Dunham responded to the criticism.

  • vintage3000

    I har you Angelique. In my Bed Stuy neighborhood my neighbor is a beautiful, petite size 2 with natural hair and manages a non-profit and teaches her toddler son how to garden. The typical Hollywood casting does not know women like her exist.

    Hell even though I ain’t no size 2 (lol), I cannot recall any other Black female tv characters who have a similar lifestyle remotely similar as mine:an over-educated negress working in corporate America but who wants to be a film editor/animator/storyteller. It’s great for Danielle she got the gig and maybe they will prove us wrong. But chances are she will be the sassy , loud talking side kick.

  • The Other Jess

    we already know that she’ll be the stereotype, or the “safe” black girl that makes white women comfortable. why do people keep begging people who obviously don’t want you to add you to their shows? no news here….

  • Avril

    This!

  • Angelique212

    “…an over-educated negress working in corporate America but who wants to be a film editor/animator/storyteller.” – vintage3000

    Et tu brute?

    I dropped Corp.Am a hot minute ago… best thing I ever did. I don’t know how, but we should talk especially with your interests.

    … and “Yes.”, I hope they prove us wrong.

  • http://startswithakesh.com/ Keshia

    It isn’t important to black women to be threatening to white women. The real question is: How can white women feel threatened by black women AT ALL? If we are on the bottom of the so-called beauty totem pole etc then they should be able to insert black women characters in their fullness and not even care.

    The problem is this lie that black women are underneath women of other races in beauty, intelligence etc. If they weren’t scared of black women looking attractive on TV they would put their acting peers on the show like Raven/Keke Palmer or other young black actresses in similar roles. Along with marginalizing her character they will most likely downplay Danielle Brooks’s beauty on this show as well. I’ll pass.

  • E!

    @vintage3000

    Exactly. Like Jennifer Hudson in the Sex In The City Movie.

  • Angelique212

    Ignore me @Vintage3000 – I wouldn’t know how to do it,

  • justanotheropinion

    In the words of Shakespeare “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much”. Now she has shown her money making as*.

    Dunham made herself clear from the get go. Any addition of a black character only shows she is bowing to pressure or needs a new audience.

    If you didn’t need to include us in the beginning (since that wasn’t your experience), why now? So now you’ve found the Holy Black Grail: “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.” Did you suddenly discover there are Black People in NY and they happen to cross your path?

    I’m sorry Danielle Brooks, but what should be a bright spot in your career is sandbagged by the role with the writer/producer/director. It’s not a commentary on your skills or ability as an actor. It just is.

  • diasporauk

    So they’ve selected the “diversity” candidate they want to play the token black chick, to appease the diversity headbangers, but the diversity headbangers still not satisfied.

    Turns out, it’s not just about including a black face, you gotta pick the “RIGHT” black face. No doubt one that can compete with white beauty.

    Apparently, the black woman they’ve chosen isn’t white enough to do that.

    Sick, sick people.

  • Angelique212

    I always find it crazy when (from what it appears) non-Americans get on these boards to disparage the concerns of a people who live within a system the commentator does not reared under. That, to me… is sick. …. and the assumptions “..isn’t white enough”..?!?!?!. WHERE did you come up with this? Though I have gaggles of family members throughout the UK and other regions, I would not feel comfortable…scratch that… I would feel like a b@stard, even if I were a transplant, to look down my nose at the concerns of “the natives”. How ridiculous is that?

  • Phillygurl

    Oh shut the hell up and worry sbout the racially “ambiguos” UK.

  • diasporauk

    What the hell are you on about? Learn to speak English.

  • Twerl

    One solution is for you to get off a black blog, no?

  • Afro Scented

    It’s a show written by a white woman for white people about white people. I have no idea why black people who watch the show feel black characters have to be included nor do I fully understand why they would want a white writer, who doesn’t seem to be the most enlightened on the experience of colored folks, to create black characters through her very white and limited perspective. The fact that black people still feel so strong about white people not including them in their circles of experience I find embarrassing and infuriating. I can assure you, they aren’t asking anyone to include them in black stories, nor are they watching black shows (for those that do) in the hopes of being included.

  • eshowoman

    Lena Dunham does not have the talent, imagination or inclination to write a black female character with depth or complexity. With the success of black female characters on Scandal and Sleepy Hollow I think she is just trying to be in on the burgeoning trend.

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