The All-White World of 'Girls'

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham, and Zosia Mamet in Girls Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet in Girls (Jojo Whilden / HBO)

"Girls," written by and starring Lena Dunham, was initially the subject of overwhelming praise for telling the story of twenty-something New York females in a new way. Media outlets scrambled to nail down a Dunham interview. And we were lucky to be one of the shows to talk with her.

But in the two weeks since the series premiered, "Girls" went from being praised to being the object of overwhelming vitriol. From the blogosphere to the New York Times, critics have asked: Why does this show, which takes place in Brooklyn, New York in 2012, have an entirely white cast? After all, only a third of Brooklyn is white.

Russell Robinson is professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of a study on race, ethnicity and gender casting in Hollywood. Melissa Silverstein is the editor of Women and Hollywood and the artistic director of the Athena Film Festival.


Russell Robinson and Melissa Silverstein

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [15]

Angel from Miami, FL

Typically, around age 32 most people choose their friends based on ethnicit/class/education. Boring, right? Their work sometimes forces them out of that rule. Sometimes. However, prior to 30 most people make friends according to proximity. Their classmates, roommates, and teammates are their likeliest BFF or inner circle member. Varying backgrounds mostly irrelevant.

Good shows have shown us that hanging with other kinds of people is okay. That a relationship between very different characters can be loving, contentious, organic, and (most of all) entertaining as any relationship where the characters share everything but the same parents. TV shows us what's possible.

The true power of television is that doesn't NEED to place different people together but that it CAN place different people together. With this influence in your life, if you're still entering groups of people who's members are identical to you, then you've placed some kind of subconscious restriction on yourself. Why would you do that?

Nov. 13 2012 10:08 AM
Kate from London

I can see the point of the article but by the same token, as a mixed race person, I do not feel at all ostracized by the show. There are many people regardless of their skin color who live in a world where everyone is either black, white, yellow etc...Having lived all over the world during my childhood and adolescence I have noticed that having a mixed crowd of friends or family is much rarer than we think and I am sorry to say that but I have seen many African American shows for instance as well where the white people are also not represented that much or if they are, it is as the clueless, narrow minded friend...So I think until America learns that ethnicities, be it white, yellow black or purple do NOT NEED to be represended all the time everywhere, then we will truly be equal to each other. It is really not that big a deal. Relax!

May. 25 2012 05:10 PM
Jon from Manhattan

Lest not forget that this work represents the singular vision of Ms Dunham. Safe to say we are watching a quartet of four young women, each woefully incomplete, as they navigate their growth into adulthood in a city that adds to the complexity of life. Much of this is revealed via expressed insecurities and sexual intimacies of the show's principal characters. Even if Ms Dunham understood and was empathetic to the plight of today's young African-American woman or Latina, were she to thrust those characters into highly charged situations of sexual behavior or unhealthy self-criticism, the show would so immediately be the target of barrage from a variety of critics, challenging among other things Ms. Dunham's presumptuousness about minority youth subculture.

That show is for another writer whose bona fides allow for the exposition of intimate and revealing minority characters. Put it another way, only Spike Lee could be allowed to make films such as School Daze or Bamboozled.

The best a minority viewer do is what I do as a white male old enough to be these characters' father; Watch the uncomfortable sexual situations and familiar self-depreciation of one's youth.

May. 07 2012 06:34 PM
Becky from Manhattan

Just watched the trailer and the overwhelming impression is of how misogynistic the show is, and how little self-respect the characters seem to have for themselves. Ugh. It might or might not be realistic, but either way, I have no desire to watch it, and I am in that target demographic.

May. 01 2012 10:03 AM
Teegles from Brooklyn

I was actually shocked me when I read a interview with Jemma Kirke. She thinks the show is realistic because all non-white girls livining brooklyn are poor and hang out in secluded projects. wow

I feel embarrassed for her, the criticisms of this show are totally correct
and the actors themselves are so willfully stupid and ignorant just like the writers.

Apr. 28 2012 12:44 AM

I think the show is very well done, but it does not approach my experiences. However, my daughter and her friends probably can relate and in a way, it does help me to understand them. It also highlights how spoiled that generation is and how many hard, painful lessons they will learn!

Apr. 27 2012 06:05 PM
Margaret from UWS Manhattan

When asking, "Do you want 'realism' in tv shows?" regarding 'race', you meant progressive social engineering (which I agree with)as realism. But it's also realistic to many that a group of young women would be 'racial
ly' homogenous; so they have the right to have a show representing who that is. There is more civilized getting along these days; but who the show represents are just as likely as not (however unfortunately) still the majority. Realism? Yes. Both.

Apr. 27 2012 04:30 PM
Chris from NYC

I don't get the outrage. The show is about privileged kids who grew up in Manhattan and live in Greenpoint. The show says more about race by not having a nonwhite character than it would by pretending that wealth and opportunity was evenly distributed among racial populations.

Apr. 27 2012 12:57 PM
Kary from Michigan

The only show that I've ever felt has truly shown diversity was CBC's original Degrassi High series. No topic was taboo, various view points were presented, and the ensemble cast wasn't made up entirely of WASPs.

Apr. 27 2012 10:20 AM
Mike Fitzgerald

Is this a television show about a small group of friends or some sort of experiment in equal rights? You may as well ask why Whistler's Mother is white or why Picasso's "Three Women" are orange?

Apr. 27 2012 09:44 AM
Nicky McCatty from today, Brooklyn. [usually, BrookLINE]

When I heard the initial interviews with the director/star, I immediately resolved not to watch the show, becuase it was evident that this was yet another all-white-New-York kind of show.

I have been complaining about this since junior high school; consequently, there have been very few programs for me to watch. I hope that Scandal fares better than Undercovers, because it is so rare and rewarding to see Black leads in American TV. Even England is better in its representations: in a country which isn't nearly as mixed as the US, shows like Misfits and Skins UK beat most of our offerings by a mile. No thugs, not merely sidekicks, principal characters whose lives are woven into the fabric of their communities. Girlfriends could have been on a major network.

Beside missing out on dramatic texture, the whiteness of these casts and plots actually trains Euro-Americans to maintain their bad habits. When someone says that they cannot picture me as part of their office's culture, they're comparing me to the professional world that's been imprinted in their heads through a lifetime of TV watching. It doesn't matter that I know more about Euro-American culture than they do, nor that I know more about our profession, what matters is that they can't even imagine me as a peripheral character.

Apr. 27 2012 08:41 AM
David from New York City

Brooklyn in 2012 isn't necessarily an integrated place, even if most people are not while. Especially among those who are able to have their parents support them for two years through an unpaid internship, you might very well find and all white world in Brooklyn.

Apr. 27 2012 08:27 AM
Rebecca S from Brooklyn

I don't understand how anything about the human condition can be so monochromatic.

Apr. 27 2012 08:26 AM
Coert from Ithaca, New York

At 58 years old I've grown up with TV and long ago understood that TV reflects almost no ones reality, including my own. But,since it usually reinforces the most vapid and obnoxious aspects of capitalist culture I rarely watch. Haven't seen it.

Apr. 27 2012 06:42 AM
eila from somerville, ma

this isn't my reality which is the beauty / and diversity/ of disAbility
when is my reality gonna be appreciated for our talents, abilities and rare sensitivities?!

Apr. 27 2012 06:07 AM

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