Tag Archives: girls

More on “Girls” and race

Judy Berman at The Atlantic argues that Girls’ race problem is both currently insoluble and indicative of a much larger systemic issue:

The solution isn’t to prohibit white writers from depicting non-white characters, or to require them to do so. Along with holding these famous names accountable for offensive representations, the US cultural mainstream desperately needs to make more space for writers and directors of color. Arguably more troubling than any of Django’s content is the convincing case David Sirota made that a black director would not even have been allowed to make a big-budget film about a former slave slaughtering slave owners.

Ta-Nehisi Coates recently argued that Dunham would be better off sticking to her “authentic self” than adding non-white characters that aren’t true to her life. He may be right, and in a world where the wealthy, white, well-connected Lena Dunhams always seem to end up in the spotlight, those who aren’t part of her elite world shouldn’t have to rely on her for representation. They need the same platform to be their authentic selves that she’s been afforded. Until the divisions between races in America truly become meaningless, it’s the only way our pop culture will ever reflect our particular patchwork of people and experiences.

Berman’s point is particularly important because it applies to many of our national conversations about race. While it’s much easier to treat racism as an issue addressed in individual situations, governed by the particulars of any given scenario, problems of racial representation and misrepresentation are nearly always related to the broader systemic and institutional forces governing race in America. And questions of privilege and access are ultimately much more significant than individual instances like Dunham, but those conversations don’t make for the sort of easily debated controversy that comes from focusing Dunham in isolation from the system that enabled her limited viewpoint.

Santigold’s New York and Lena Dunham’s “Girls”

I’m going to commit the grievous sin of talking about a TV show I haven’t actually seen: HBO’s Girls. Girls won a Golden Globe last night, and Lena Dunham beat out Amy Poehler and Tina Fey for best actress in a TV comedy or musical. As I said, I can’t speak to Dunham’s performance, but I do think that saying Fey, Poehler and the other nominees got Dunham through middle school may not have been the wisest or classiest way of acknowledging the competition.

Following up on the Golden Globes success, Santigold released a video this morning of a song written specifically for the Girls soundtrack, titled, appropriately enough, “Girls.”

It’s not my favorite Santigold song, but it’s catchy, and the huge cast of girls and women singing the song is engaging and fun to watch. What immediately struck me, though, is how broad and diverse this group of women is. Santigold’s New York, and it clearly is New York, is full of young people and old people, young people hanging out with old people, folks of varying racial backgrounds and socio-economic classes. And notably, it features lots of black folks.

If there’s one thing I know about Girls, even having never seen it, it’s that Girls does not feature many black people. Anna Holmes’s piece in the New Yorker last April started a debate about race and Girls that’s still raging, particularly now that Dunham has cast Community‘s Donald Glover as her black Republican boyfriend in the second season. Helena Andrews at The Root argues that Glover’s casting works, and that his character avoids tokenism.

To be honest, I’m not that interested in watching Girls, but I am interested in the discussions about race, privilege, class, entitlement, and creative labor that have been sparked by the show. Ultimately, I find Santigold’s New York considerably more compelling than what I know of Dunham’s Brooklyn, but it’s the contrast of the two that seems most striking.