Out of college but not privilege, HBO ‘Girls’ conquer hippest Brooklyn

May 18, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Zach Campbell

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

“Girls” is a new HBO series depicting the lives of four post-college twenty-somethings living in some of Brooklyn’s hip neighborhoods. The show has been making waves, with fans calling it a younger, more modern and relevant “Sex and the City,” and others criticizing it for its lack of diversity and saying it tells the story of a select few on a pedestal of privilege.

Created by Lena Dunham, a 26-year-old alum of Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights, “Girls” centers around the lives of four women living in Brooklyn who experience a sort of post-college quarter-life-crisis. At least partially based on Dunham’s own experiences as a recent graduate in New York, “Girls” explores the experiences of young college graduates navigating life, sex, friendships and work in an expensive city and a terrible economy.

The lead character, Hannah, played by Dunham, lives in Greenpoint. The series was shot on locations around Brooklyn, and at the Silvercup Studios in Long Island City. A 10-episode second season — just green-lighted by HBO — will be shot at Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and on other Brooklyn locations.

Durham previously wrote, directed and acted in “Tiny Furniture,” which describes the experience of a recent college graduate returning home to figure out what to do with her life. The film, described as a “dramedy,” tackles similar issues to “Girls” and won multiple awards, including the Best Narrative Feature award at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival. Lena Dunham's show, "Girls," has provoked conversation about "white-washing" in the entertainmetn industry. Photo by Jojo Whilden/HBO

The first episode of “Girls” opens with a terse conversation in an upscale restaurant between Hannah and her parents, as they inform her that they won’t be supporting her anymore, cutting her off after floating her for two years after college. Hannah, an aspiring writer, is now forced to grow up a little bit. The three other main characters are Marnie, the more “together” best friend, played by Allison Williams; Jessa, a well-traveled British bohemian played by Jamima Kirke; and Shoshanna, a self-help-obsessed NYU student.


“Girls” has recently inspired a conversation about who, exactly, it depicts. Many are pointing out that its characters, all white, educated and from privileged backgrounds, don’t accurately represent life in a borough that is two-thirds people of color, and where many of all backgrounds struggle with poverty and access to quality education.


Kendra James noted this in an article at Racialicious, also pointing out that the online casting calls for “Girls” were heavily skewed towards white actors.


“Yet ‘Girls,’ set in Brooklyn, where only one-third of the population is white, somehow exists in a New York where minorities are only called to cast for one-liners and nanny roles,” wrote James.

Others attributed the lack of diversity to the writer’s own experience.

“I can only assume that the creators of ‘Girls’ drew from their own personal experiences,” wrote Teddy Zee in a New York Times forum on white-washing in the entertainment industry. “If true, then the lack of color in ‘Girls’ is an accurate reflection of how those associated with the show have experienced the world in their 20s.”


“This show isn’t supposed to feel exclusionary,” said Dunham in an interview with NPR, in response to a question about criticism of her show. “It’s supposed to feel honest, and it’s supposed to feel true to many aspects of my experience.” 


Dunham explained that she wanted to avoid portraying anybody’s experience but her own. Still, many have called out the show’s writers for stereotypes in the show.


“White-washing television shows and movies is not only accidental, but also irresponsible,” wrote Phoebe Robinson, also in the New York Times forum. “And Dunham mollifying people by including stereotypes of P.O.C.’s (people of color) such as ‘Asian good at computers’ or ‘ranting homeless black man’ won’t cut it.” 


Robinson is referring to the only two non-white speaking characters in the first episode, a woman whose job Hannah covets and a man who approaches her on the street.


“Girls” does cover new ground from a feminist perspective, wrote Kerensa Cadenas in Ms. Magazine, by simultaneously dealing with issues that, in another series, would each be the focus of one episode.


“Despite its lack of a serious class and race consciousness, Girls does address other feminist issues currently in play, among them body image, abortion, relationships within a social media age and street harassment,” wrote Cadenas, who also dismisses comparisons between “Girls” and “Sex and the City,” writing that the latter’s plot is often undercut by characters’ interest in fashion and consumer culture. 


“Girls, on the other hand,” wrote Cadenas, “encompasses the joy and sadness of what it’s like to be an under-employed uncertain 20-something woman in a post-sexual revolution and economically downtrodden world.”


Put another way, by Dunham herself as Hannah in the show’s first episode, while in the midst of an opium-tea-induced stupor.


“I think I may be the voice of my generation,” she says, “or at least the voice of a generation.”

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