by Ange Concepcion
Let’s suppose I tell you there’s a show about a 20-something year old college educated female, Hannah, newly cut off from her parents, set in New York City. She navigates through her burgeoning life as wide-eyed aspiring writer but day-lighting for now at a coffee shop, along with the comfort of her equally friends.
What’s the automatic image that forms in your head?
If you guessed a bunch of white girls, you’re correct — though props to you if you thought otherwise!
Girls could be considered as the Sex in the City for the 20-somethings attempting to launch into adulthood in New York City, using Brooklyn, rather than Upper East Side-Manhattan, as the main backdrop. First season highlights include HPV, a pregnancy scare, super awkward sex, creepy advances and a slight dabbling in drugs. Brooklyn seems to be a well-suited background for a struggling writer like Hannah trying to make rent money — Brooklyn’s gritty and has bite. Lena Dunham, the creator and star of Girls, based much of the show’s themes from her life experiences — the four characters represent parts of Dunham or people close to her. Given this, it’s natural the main cast is completely white since it’s a very loose autobiography of Dunham.
Consider the difficulties writers face when attempting to craft layers within creating a character, developing and mapping out the character progression/regression — a character whose identity is completely different from that of the writer. Dunham’s challenge with writing in girls of color is because Girls is “super-specific” to her life story — and it looks like her life’s story might not have a lot of color in it. (Note: I am in no way saying it’s ‘bad’ to have close friends that look like you). She reasons the lack of diversity in Girls with avoiding “tokenism” in her writing. However, she has some head-scratching and contradictory remarks: “…Not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different” and wanted to shy away from rendering experiences she could not “speak to accurately”…even though she had just stated that the experience of black and white girls aren’t drastically different.
I’ll credit her revelation of not attempting to write in diverse girls of color because of her concern of misrepresenting experiences she’s never had. But her remarks reveal a touch of laziness and comfort. Laziness in pursuing to explore and learn who are the 20 something year old of girls of color and comfort in normalizing her super-specific experience as that of a white girl — a white, 20-something college educated girl trying to make it in NYC.
But why should Girls broach upon introducing diverse characters, tackle the identities of being a person of color and a girl? The show would likely cross over into inauthenticity. Dunham’s struggles are that of a type of person, a white, heterosexual female, that is hardly underrepresented at all.
Responding to a tweet wishing Girls featured more people of color, Dunham replied, “I do too” and would be “addressing that” in the second season. Executive producer Judd Apatow, came to her defense and claimed that Girls will be on for a while and have an opportunity to have different kinds of people. It’s comforting to know that you need to gingerly ease a story line into introducing racially or ethnically diverse characters.
Maybe it takes time to make friends of a different color when you’ve been hanging around people who look like you for most of your life. We’ll see whether Hannah’s ready to address that.
Ange Concepcion is a Chicago native and is currently a college student affairs specialist. Ange studied Physics at Loyola University Chicago and went on to receive her master’s from Northwestern University. Her thesis summary regarding LGB Christian college student identity expression and reconciliation was featured in the 2011 National Association of Student Personnel Administrators GLBT Knowledge Community Research Briefs.