By Vanessa Walker
HBO is on a roll.
“Girls” has gotten a lot of buzz this past year, and it is now amongst the likes of “Game of Thrones”, “Boardwalk Empire” and “True Blood”. However, since the season ended, there have been stories floating around news websites about writer and actor Lena Dunham’s commitment to adding more women of color to the show.
In other words, an almost universal critique of “Girls” has been the fact that the main character, Hannah (played by Dunham), has a circle of 20-something, hipster, quirky, tongue-and-cheek friends that are all white. They also lacked acquaintances and even friends that are people of color.
However, the show in itself is a great watch. It took home an Emmy for “Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series”. The cast, though it lacked representation of people of color, was still very good. All the characters were vibrant, colorful, animated and interacted well together. Even with only 10 episodes that last a mere 30 minutes (a stark contrast from most other HBO shows that are often 45 minutes or longer), viewers were able to build a meaningful relationship with all of the characters.
Viewers might recognize the character Marnie as NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams’ daughter, Allison Williams. Actor Zosia Marnet, who plays Joyce in the hit series “Mad Men”, plays Shoshanna.
The show is relatable for many people, mostly girls, as the show’s title lets on. But there are lots of girls who may not be able to identify with Hannah and her friend’s stories.
There are lots of societal factors that make the life experiences of all girls (and women) different, despite the fact that we all share a common gender identity. All of the female characters (and male characters) share a similar background in terms of socioeconomic status. Most of them are in college or are college graduates, they can somehow afford to live in New York city with meager jobs or no jobs at all, and for the most part the characters are able to chase their passions, such as writing, without worrying too much about putting food on the table or paying rent. All characters come from a similar ethnic background so religious and cultural issues never come into play.
But the show isn’t without it’s many high points. It touches on a young woman’s experience with dating during and after college, sex, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, mental health issues, body image, relationships, love and loss.
Besides the fact that race and ethnicity is sometimes addressed in the show, a more multicultural cast is essential in keeping the show relatable to all viewers. It’s problematic that the only folks of color in the show are Hannah’s co-workers who helped her draw on her eyebrows, people in the background at parties, and urban youth hanging out on top of abandoned buildings.
Though it’s perfectly possible (and certainly a reality) that close circles of friends are often people who are of the same ethnic group or race, there are lots of groups of friends who are not. An important point that the show can address is the fact that when people come together as friends who come from a variety of life experiences, customs, and traditions, it’s an ideal place to build community. It creates a space where people can gain a better overall understanding of our neighbors and ourselves.
It’s worth noting that Dunham acknowledged the criticism and publically said it was not her intention to make anyone feel not included in the show.
A title like “Girls” implies that it’s about the experiences of, well, girls.
If there are any additions to the shows cast, hopefully it’s not just in that “so-and-so has a roommate that is of color, so that counts as diversity” kind of way. But with the thoughtful inclusion of folks who have different life experiences and backgrounds of the other characters on the show, intertwined in a way that is typical of many young women’s lives that live in major metropolitan areas such as New York. Doing so should not be a stretch of Dunham’s or anyone’s imaginations, as such relationships are a reality for most people, and apparently for lots of viewers of the show as well.
Let’s hope that season two, which comes out January 2013, will be closer to the reality most folks experience in their everyday lives, and the people of color in the show wont be ornaments in the background.
*Vanessa Walker is a student of Journalism and Women’s Studies at the California State University of Sacramento. She periodically writes on her blog “Limitlessons,” which is about the many different lessons young people can learn from moving away from home and going off to college. Check out her blog at limitlessons.wordpress.com