It is November 26, 2018, and we are still putting up with Lena Dunham’s bullshit, thanks to this impressively written but simultaneously infuriating profile by Allison P. Davis over at New York Magazine.
Why is Dunham getting press this time? Camping hasn’t been the success HBO hoped. The publication Lenny Letter is shutting down. I’m not sure what project Dunham is promoting aside from the millionth installment of her “Pity me, love me, hate me, pay attention to me” parade, but here we all are, subject to another profile. You can check it out at The Cut, if you need to burn off some Thanksgiving calories through rage.
Why did I read this? Because Petr shared it in the Pajiba Slack last night and I thought to myself, I am ready for this torture, but I wasn’t ready for this torture. Not really. Because I’m not sure Lena Dunham is ever going to stop being Lena Dunham, with her poke-everyone-before-they-can-poke her thing. The first pull quote makes that abundantly clear — “I’m not for everyone” leads the story — and while Davis appropriately side eyes Dunham throughout the piece, it is still a total slog. It is a wonderfully insightful and simultaneously infuriating piece of work.
Because Dunham has always handled matters of race badly. She’s terrible at it! She lacks nuance in, like, every way! And while she seems to own up to that in Davis’s piece (“Race is a chronic blind spot for her because she didn’t grow up with a lot of diversity in her New York City private school, she explains,” Davis writes), I couldn’t get over some of this. I just couldn’t! It is mind-boggling shit!
And more: Dunham asks Davis if both of her parents are black. She mentions that people “quietly” reached out to her and said it was “great” that she defended Girls writer and executive producer Murray Miller against accusations of rape by Aurora Perrineau with very little knowledge of the situation, a bad look for someone claiming to be an ally. She pissed off Tessa Thompson by turning a Time’s Up meeting into a photo opportunity.
Oh, and you know, what pisses me off the most: that she’s still writing that Syrian refugee movie, adapted from A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming.
Look, I know what Dunham defenders are going to say here — that we should also hold Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams accountable for hiring Dunham, and don’t worry, I do. They are also on the receiving end of my ire! But what is some particular bullshit in this profile is how Dunham, as is her custom, sidesteps the idea of actually incorporating diversity into her creative process. From the very final two paragraphs of the profile:
She’s also adapting a true-life story, A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea, about Doaa Al Zamel, a Syrian refugee who was stranded in the Mediterranean. The film is being produced by J. J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg. It seems like a fairly extreme version of attempting to get outside her own perspective in her art — there are smaller steps she could have taken first. But she tells me she has a multipoint plan to avoid stepping into it again. She is working with Al Zamel, her translator, and Melissa Fleming, who wrote the book. She’ll go to Sweden in December (health allowing), to spend time with Al Zamel, and to an undisclosed location with the U.N. Refugee Agency. She hopes to work with collaborators of Syrian ancestry, and of course all of Dunham’s fees from the film will go to organizations dealing with the Syrian crisis. She hasn’t announced all of this yet because the plans are still in the works.
But she did announce the news of the adaptation in late October, and, as if on cue, Lena Dunham was trending.
Look at Davis’s language here: Dunham has a “multipoint plan to avoid stepping into it again,” which seems like a very strategic move, but does she have specific plans to work with any Syrian writers? To bring in any Arab or Middle Eastern or refugee collaborators who might have different perspectives from hers? Who might offer insight that she lacks? Nope, nope, and nope. Dunham “hopes” to work with those people, but “the plans are still in the works.”
“The plans are still in the works” sounds to me like what you say when your high school or college friends want to hang out and you can’t come up with an excuse not to fast enough so you make up some lame-ass reasoning not to show up at Applebee’s for all-you-can-eat apps. It’s an excuse you make when your ex-partner wants to get together to talk things over and you’re like, “Ugh, no,” but you don’t want to say that directly to the person’s face, so you make up some obligation to your parents. It’s the response when colleagues invite you to a work happy hour when all you want to do is flee the damn office.
This is not the appropriate response of a multimillionaire, a well-known filmmaker and TV creator and writer, a figure who sarcastically said she was the voice of a generation but who also totally acts like the voice of a generation. Dunham should have never been hired to adapt A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea anyway, but how she is already offering up these veiled excuses for not bringing in the people who should have been hired to work with her is the same kind of exhausting bullshit Dunham always does.
Why is being declarative for something that would actually matter to a lot of people so hard for Dunham? The answers are probably there in Davis’s profile. But I can’t bring myself to read it again. Not when everything we need to know about Dunham, she’s already shoved in our faces — mostly not for better, but for worse.
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