Everyone remembers the backlash that Lena Dunham received after the first season of Girls aired with not a single character of color. Dunham’s reasoning behind this was innocent enough—if not naive. She said it wasn’t so much an intentional move as it was just second nature. She’s a strict observer of the adage “write what you know” and apparently Lena didn’t know any black people (or rather, know any well enough to confidently write them into her script). Back in May of 2012, Lena said,
I really wrote the show from a gut-lever 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 was super-specific to my experience, and I always want to avoid rendering an experience I cant speak to accurately.
The only gripe I have with this is that if she really was a girl struggling to make ends meet in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, then she would likely have a whole lot of friends who aren’t white. But alas, she comes from a very well-off family, and was raised in an upper-class, white environment.
Judd Apatow’s response to this critique was less sympathetic. “The show will be on for a long time, so there’s plenty of time to have every type of person on the show,” he said in April of 2012.
Then, season two rolled around and Dunham couldn’t get a black character in there fast enough; the first scene, and Dunham’s character Hannah is already banging Donald Glover.
Now with season three fast approaching, it’s been made public that Danielle Brooks—aka “Taystee” from Orange Is The New Black—will appear on Girls, marking the first black girl to grace the show.
But wait—there’s more. According to the Lena Dunham’s Instagram, it seems Jessica Williams, a Daily Show Correspondent, will appear on the show too:
As a show that is first and foremost a singular depiction of women, however, one must ask if this race debate is even worth wasting our time. Last year, Christina Greer wrote about being a black woman and a proud, self-proclaimed lover of the show Girls. She argued that it’s the gender aspect–not the race one—that makes the show relatable.
What makes Girls relatable is that it speaks to the universal experience of women struggling to make room in their lives for friendships, relationships, meaningful or meaningless jobs, overbearing or absent family members, and themselves. Girls follows the tradition of shows like Designing Women, The Golden Girls, Living Single, Girlfriends and Sex and the City. Whether black or white, young or old, in the south or not, we see these women argue, battle with their imperfections, exit unhealthy situations, and find courage to stay in positive relationships and be loved. These shows represent the struggle of all girls and women as they try to figure out their own identities. These are the struggles of women who try to find sisterhood, a feeling of kinship and closeness to a group of their peers.
The portrayal of women in Girls isn’t something to be cavalierly overlooked. It’s the focal point of the show, its driving force, its crux, and we shouldn’t let anything overshadow that.