#TeamBlaria, the first and only time I discussed Girls (which you can read here) was shortly after the pilot episode aired last April and let’s just say that the show activated my black rage, or blage as I like to call it, faster than the time a former white co-worker of mine walked up to my cubicle, asked “Do you like watermelon,” (which was really code for: “I know you wish your cubicle was made out of watermelon, so you’d could eat your way out it of every day,”), and before I could respond, he shoved a plate of it in my face and said, “It’s yellow,” like he was Dancing With Wolves’ Kevin Costner introducing some new shit to the Native Americans. This dude straight up put me in a totes awk position because if I acted surprised like I never heard about yellow watermelon, which I hadn’t, then I’d be giving him the satisfaction of him getting his K. Cost on. Yet, if I pretended to know about the existence of it then he’d be doing that celebratory “I was right!” dance that I do when I get home and see that I assumed correctly about having one last limonada-flavored Pelligrino in my fridge:
Soooooo, I just remained calmed, waited until he walked away, ate the fuck out that yellow melly and was like:
The stank face coupled with the “I love you” conveying that I kinda hated that I hearted him for introducing something so delicious to me that has changed my whole world. Anyway, back to Girls and my blage. It was in full effect when I watched the series’ premiere last year. Although the blage wasn’t quite so intense that I was yelling at Lena Dunham every time she appeared on my TV screen like we were about to come to blows in a street fight:
I was definitely giving the show the side eye like it was a friend of mine who pulled up the calculator app on her phone because she couldn’t do simple math when figuring out the tip on a $40 check at brunch:
However, despite all my misgivings about the show, I decided to watch the entire first season because I wanted to be fully informed about Girls before passing final judgment.
And for the most part, my initial opinions didn’t change: while it was a well-paced show, it wasn’t particular funny very often; the lead four characters weren’t well developed nor well acted, and the writers did not have a clue when it came to writing ethnic characters (example: Hannah, played by Dunham, worked with Latina women who sounded like they were always on the verge of punctuating every sentence with ¡ay-yi-yi! and spent their work breaks drawing chola eyebrows on each other). So what exactly kept me around past the season finale? What allowed me to remain open to the idea of revisiting the show? This statement from Dunham during an interview with NPR last year:
“…but for me to ignore that criticism and not to take it in would really go against my beliefs and my education in so many things.”
Which, artist to artist and human to human, I appreciate. Her recognition of valid critique when she could’ve easily gone the route that people like producer Judd Apatow and certain staff writers on Girls who seemed to treat the issue of race and class criticism either flippantly or in a rather surface level way is commendable and also very adult. The glibness displayed by those aforementioned people was nothing more than a refusal to engage in a conversation – a refusal that is afforded to the privileged – and it was precisely what the complaints that the show were about: ignoring POCs and certain financial brackets in order to not have to deal with them. So, despite all my misgivings and ill-feelings towards Girls, the fact that Dunham allowed herself to download the concerns about the show and seemed genuine in having to re-evaluate and make some changes because as the old saying goes, “when you know better, you do better,” I had to give the show one more chance and watch last night’s season two premiere.
Probably one of the things most journalists covering last night’s episode will point out, if for no other reason than its pure brazenness, is that the first time we see Hannah, she’s topless and having sex with Sandy, a black republican played by actor/rapper/stand up comedian Donald Glover and uttering things like “You fucking wanted this, didn’t you?”
While I don’t think that in-your-face scene was a “fuck you” to the detractors, I definitely felt like Dunham and co. were having a side convo with the audience as she alluded to in an interview with Vulture.com: “…it was a pretty clear statement that we are comfortable, that there isn’t a political agenda against having black characters in the show.” So let’s address this for a moment. I am happy about Glover’s addition to the show.
By all accounts from journalists who’ve viewed the first handful of episodes this season, Sandy is a fully realized character, yet I’m still hearing grumblings of “this is merely tokenism.” WTF? Last year, myself and many others were asking why having a POC on a TV show is viewed as such a chore and now there is one (and also visible some POC extras at Hannah’s party during last night’s epi), he’s reduced to being categorized as a token. I don’t know about you, but I find this quite dismissive and rooted in faulty logic as it implies that merely having POCs on a TV show comes with, at best, a “you don’t really belong here” vibe and at worst, “your being here ruins all credibility.” I thought the point is that we want POCs on TV shows to help further exemplify that they are, in fact, “normal” and a part of society and not the Other, so give me a break. People of all races interact on a daily basis. Yes, there are white people who only hang out with other white people and black people who only hang out with other black people, but the fact remains that there is far more mingling of the races in metropolitan cities such as New York than people care to acknowledge. So, it is not implausible to have a POC in the world that is created on Girls and this careless dismissal of a well-thought POC character encourages the continual exclusion of certain races because it will make white writers feel like, “Well, fuck it,
no one’s going to be satisfied, so I’m just not going to have any POCs on the damn show.” But me thinks this disgruntlement with Sandy being on the show is far more complicated than it appears on the surface. One, the creation of this character does not address the WOC (that’s women of color) problem. While it’s highly unlikely that a lead WOC will be created for the show, I do agree that there can be notable and interesting ones who fill out the world of the show, which is why when I heard that the Girls crew was casting for a WOC lesbian character, I was happy. That would be dope and another solid step in the right direction of having a more diverse and less extremely white privileged and myopic point of view.
Two, I think the casting of Glover as opposed to another black actor like Anthony Mackie is giving some people pause. From Glover’s rap lyrics and comments celebrating white and Asian beauty, while black beauty is not given the same kind of shine to his, what some would call, “non-threatening black guy” persona aka, black, but not reeeeeally black, some may feel as though, “Of course, they cast this kind of black person on the show.” Oy. Look, I’m going to try to keep my comments brief on the subject of “blackness” as I’ve addressed it in a previous blog post about quarterback Robert Griffin, III, which you can read here. Regardless as to whether or not that Glover dates black girls or finds them attractive, that should not be Dunham’s concern when casting. And to make it her concern would only make her appear as yet another white person trying to define what blackness is, i.e. you date white women, so are you really a black person or just a sort of black person? It would be absolutely ignorant to have kind of criteria when casting POCs on the show, when she does not hold white actors to that standard. No matter what Glover’s personal dating life is like (I have no idea), I think what needs to be the focus is that Dunham, in her way, is addressing the lack of diversity by creating a well-rounded character with Sandy. So, to the people still griping, lay off just a smidge because we cannot demand that a person do better and then when they start to do so, respond with, “Well, you’re only doing xyz to say you’re not racist or to prove that you have a black friend.” That “damn if you do, damn if you don’t” attitude is mired in complaining and a lack of recognition and appreciation of effort because while the world is not changing because Glover is cast on the show, what is changing is something that I don’t think a lot of noticing: Dunham is listening and learning. And that’s what touches and intrigues me the most.
I’m appreciative that a white person is listening to concerns of POCs for a change and adjusting accordingly. Because the fact remains that many white people have to be taught about the the complexities of race in the media and in the world. And that is not meant in a condescending manner at all. Simply put, many white people are just not knowledgeable about it or have blinders on when it comes to race because we do not have open discussions the issue in this country. But it seems to me as though Dunham’s willing to learn, which is great because far too often, some white peeps may dismiss or rather not deal with racial concerns, so I think there needs to be a
This is not to say that I’ve had a complete 180° in my opinions about Duhham and the show. I haven’t. I still find problems with the whole Lena Dunham machinery – including but not limited to the over the top celequeeftion (that’s the combination of celebration & queef) over the fact that her show is deemed “revolutionary,” when it is not; and her somewhat self-absorbed comments about what bravery is (boy, do performers love describing themselves as brave). Therefore, I still have my eye on Dunham in case there are future missteps, and there probably will be, but right now, today, as I write this, I’m going to give a tiny bit of credit where credit is due and say, “Thanks for learning to listen.” Because that’s all I wanted. That all POCs and WOCs wanted. We wanted to be heard.