Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about Girls.
I’m referring to the new television show on HBO, not girls in general. The difference between Girls and girls is important, because a show about a handful of females is much different than a discussion about all females in general.
Critics and bloggers have been quick to criticize the show for being “too white.” Diversity is important in film and television, but this time, I don’t agree.
Being a girl myself, I deeply connect to the show’s sensible representation of femininity. Girls creator Lena Dunham — who writes, directs and stars in the show – isn’t afraid to portray unflattering, uncomfortable and ugly scenes. Girls are messy beings, a fact the show fully acknowledges.
The actors are neither incredibly beautiful nor repellently unattractive. Love interests veer far away from the romantic (sex scenes are cringingly humorous), and private moments girls never share, like shaving naked in a bathtub, are all fair game on-screen.
Dunham’s character, Hannah, holds a college degree, is in her early 20s and aspires to become a semi-well-known writer. Hannah’s life is eerily similar to my own, but these few commonalities only initially interested me in Girls. I’ve remained a loyal viewer for the smart scripts and the acting, both of which feel organic and improvised.
Of course, it’s easy for me to connect and relate. I am young, I am white and I am a female. However, casting aside the personal comparisons, the criticism that Girls is “too white” still irks me.
Critics simply want more shades of skin. How will African-American or Asian women relate to the show, they ask. In an ideal world, everyone would be fairly represented, but that didn’t stop Seinfeld or Friends from becoming wildly popular. (There are plenty of other examples, but like Seinfeld and Friends, Girls is set in New York). Keep in mind, both sitcoms featured women and men who were all white.
Girls focuses on females, a group already largely under-represented in film and television. Large parts of each episode have no males at all (helping Girls pass the Bechdel Test). Still, to many critics, it’s not good enough.
I wish we could just celebrate Dunham as a wonderful writer and director who also happens to be female, but that’s not the case. She’s in charge of writing a show that critics wish would appeal to every girl, and that’s just not possible.
Perhaps the problem isn’t that the show is “too white,” but that Dunham is not trying to write a show for everyone. Do women have to be entirely inclusive just because many males in the film and television industry are not? The answer should be a simple no, yet it isn’t. In the entertainment business, Dunham is a minority, and critics like minorities to stick together.
“I’m the voice of a generation,” proclaimed Hannah in the first episode, perhaps as a reflection on how Dunham operates. Hannah is “the” voice — a specific voice — not any and every voice. Girls is not just any show. It is the show about four girls, not four billion. Dunham doesn’t attempt to write for the entire generation of girls. When it’s framed in such blunt terms, I don’t think anyone would attempt to.