Monday, April 1, 2013

Lena Dunham Is Not The Problem

XFINITY offered a Watch-a-thon last week in order to lure more subscribers to the zillions of channels they offer. I grabbed the opportunity and watched the current zeitgeist offering HBO's Girls.

The cast of HBO's Girls

Starring writer-producer-director Lena Dunham, Girls is a polarizing hit about four twentysomething women surviving in New York City.

Dunham has been lambasted in the press for the lack of diversity in her cast.

I hated the show based on one blog post addressing the issue.

As a black woman who is also an actress and a writer I am wary of shows that aren't inclusive because it is a flagrant reminder of the limited opportunities for minorities in the industry. It can also be (believe it or not) quite boring to only see white faces on the screen.

After actually viewing both seasons of Girls (in a five day marathon) I have no problem with the lack of diversity.

The show is absolutely a representation of a myriad of young people who aren't exposed to anyone different than themselves. If they are exposed to people outside their ethnicity they still aren't in the forefront of their lives.

People segregate in desegregated contexts all the time. We aren't allowed to do it in the workplace or school but share a meal together ie a school cafeteria or a break room and observe the racial divide.

Dunham is a great writer with a precise story to tell. I think she is on her way to setting the audience up for something far more shocking than the graphic sex scenes.

The exploration of rootlessness, roommate hopping, drug use, self involvement, break ups and the loss of friendship is relatable regardless of the characters' skin color.

In Season Two, Dunham made an effort to satisfy critics of the lack of diversity by giving Hannah Horvath (her character) a black boyfriend. A true auteur, Dunham flipped the audience's expectations by making him a Republican.

Within two episodes, the black boyfriend is out of the picture due to their political differences and his criticism of her writing. Hannah Horvath resorts back to her all white world save a few minority extras in the background.

Was it really Lena Dunham's job to portray a black character?

The problem isn't that Lena Dunham isn't writing for people of color. The problem is that there aren't enough writer's of color in the entertainment industry.

According to the 2013 Writer's Guild TV Staff Diversity Report minority writers have doubled their share of TV Staff Employment since 1999-2000 but remain severely underrepresented by a factor or more than 2 to 1 employment.

When a minority does have the opportunity to helm a show hiring other minorities is crucial.

Noreen Malone of the New Republic suggests, "There tend to be two ways that people react to having a minority and an underdog in a situation like that. One is to give a few breaks to up-and-comers with a mind to changing the status quo and making things a bit easier for people who come afterwards. The other is to think, I earned it, why can't they if they're really good?"

The fate of minority representation on television is grim if the latter explanation is true.

As the poet Alice Walkers says,  "Each one must pull one." 

If writers of color (and women, people with disabilities, LGBT) wait around for the industry to change the status quo it could be a long time before there is proper representation in programming. 

For example, over the last decade the rate of female representation went up a mere five percent. According to Jonathan Handel of The Hollywood Reporter it is " a rate of increase so sluggish that parity to men won't be achieved for another 42 years unless faster progress is made."

In the meantime minorities must make the strides. 

Shonda Rhimes the prolific creator of Grey's Anatomy has created characters all all ethnicities in her three ABC shows (Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal).

She is a black woman in a position of power who integrates her experience and point of view into her storytelling. According to the Writer's Guild Staffing Brief her shows have minority writers.

I am available to write for any of Ms. Rhimes' shows.

I also have an idea for a pilot...