'Girls' star deftly deals with diversity
The actress-writer-director deftly navigates a clear path through the tsunami of deserved criticism over her show's lack of diversity.
"Girls" follows four young women -- all of them white -- living the decidedly unglamorous life in New York City.
In a show with such a sweeping, all-inclusive title, the lack of even one girl of color was felt by fans and eventually by Dunham herself.
"But for me to ignore that criticism and not to take it in would really go against my beliefs and my education in so many things," Dunham said in an interview with NPR in 2012.
And in the new year she made good on her resolution to take that criticism to heart without being campy.
Season two is all about new beginnings. In the premiere episode, Hannah (played by Dunham) has a new boyfriend, Sandy (Donald Glover of NBC's sitcom "Community").
Glover's casting could easily be dismissed by some as tokenism, but those rabble-rousers need only to actually watch the first two episodes to realize Sandy's character is hardly out of place.
For a girl like Hannah, a guy like Sandy is a godsend.
Sandy is the kind of guy your girlfriends can get behind. He is nice and in law school. He has a clean apartment minus the annoying roommates and, most importantly, he is just that into Hannah.
Sure, Sandy's a Republican, but nobody's perfect.
Hannah has been taking care of her ex, Adam, despite his mood swings and their "it's complicated" relationship. So therein lies the choice: the nice guy or the bad boy?
Hannah and Sandy eventually get into one of those fights couples have when they're trying that brutal-honesty thing. Instead of accepting Sandy's criticism of her "work," she goes on the defensive and attacks his political beliefs.
And a political discussion between two interracial hipsters who've sort of been blissfully ignoring their disparate races thus far can only go so well.
"The joke's on you because, you want to know what, I never thought about the fact that you were black once," Hannah blurts out at the height of the fight. "I don't live in a world where there are divisions like that."
It's not hard to imagine what happens next, and that's the great part about the conversation.
As I watched Hannah's implosion in amused horror, my boyfriend, only half-listening before, spoke up from his side of the couch. "I can see those people having that exact conversation," he said. "It makes total sense." And in rushed my pride in Lena Dunham.
So for me what's great about this season of "Girls" is that Dunham has recognized that people who don't look exactly like her could help tell her story.
Sandy doesn't have to be black. He just has to be the nice guy for whom Hannah isn't ready -- a necessary point in the narrative of her self discovery. A stepping-stone.
But the fact that he is black is a step in the right direction.
Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of "Bitch Is the New Black," a memoir in essays.
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