As we reported yesterday, Lena Dunham‘s flawed-but-beautiful show Girls was nominated for an impressive four Emmy Awards after only one season. Pretty impressive for a show that’s been so universally criticized.
While I’m a big fan of the show and happy it got the nods, an interview Dunham gave to The New York Times yesterday gave me pause. And this pause was especially surprising, considering it concerned a topic Girls seems determined to deconstruct and explore. It starts with a “P” and it ends with “having the resources necessary to fulfill your human potential.” That’s right, I’m talking about privilege.
When asked about the various criticisms leveled at the show, Lena said this:
“The nepotism one, I was always pretty good at ignoring because it seemed so rooted in basic human jealousy and dislike of other people’s success. There’s just no other way to read that one.”
Slow down there, pal. Each of the four primary cast members is the daughter of someone famous. How does that not bear examination? This “anyone who criticizes my decisions is just jealous” stance veers quite a bit away from the careful, equivocating language—”I felt so lucky to be part of something that was opening that dialogue”—that comes later in the interview in reference to the explosive subject of race.
Lena Dunham, let me tell you something, upper middle class kid to rich kid. “Nepotism” is not just about someone at HBO consciously saying, “these are the daughters of famous people, so let’s pick up this show.” It’s about all the covert and overt ways privilege operates. Just because you’re smart and hardworking, doesn’t mean you haven’t benefitted from immense privilege. You have written a fine television show. But you also got to go to private school and private liberal arts college (I’m guessing you weren’t work study), where you got to study something you were actually interested in instead of something designed to put food on the table. And then you got to live at your parents TriBeCa loft, for free, while working on your creative projects. You happen to occupy a demographic HBO is interested in courting. And the actresses you cast were not a result of open auditions which every talented girl from miles around was invited to. They, too, moved within your rarefied world, and were in the right place at the right time when opportunity knocked.
Yes, you have talent. But so do a lot of other people, people who will never get the chance to realize it because they are too busy trying to survive in the worst economy since the Great Depression. Admitting these things does not, and should not, take away from your own achievements. In fact, it only makes you look like a more empathetic, socially conscious, and clear-eyed person. I.e., someone I want to pay attention to. Nepotism rules the entertainment industry, but no one ever talks about it. Why not be the one to do it? You know enough to try to be sensitive on the topic of race and omission, so please don’t be so naive about privilege. It looks bad on you, and I want you to look good. Because there are many other things that I like about you, Lena Dunham. Honest.
(Via The New York Times)