I used to work at a mainstream women’s magazine that tried very hard to be inclusive. We used to take great pains to make sure that the pages (especially in the beauty section) had a mix of women with different skin tones, hair colors and textures—because that’s what America looks like. We used a lot of celebrity photos and sadly, it was often a struggle to find red carpet shots of young black, Latina or Asian women sporting the specific trends we were covering. The new HBO show Girls is the perfect example of why it was so difficult.
The series is bugging the hell out of a lot of people because it features a group of all-white, privileged 20-something-year-old friends who live in New York City, but have somehow managed to avoid knowing any people of color. Even though I think most New Yorkers, myself included, have friends of all different backgrounds, there are people in NYC who roll in non-diverse circles. The writer and star of the show, Lena Dunham, must fit into that category because the story is based on herself and the people she knows. That’s why I’m OK with the cast the way it is. If Dunham’s never had a black girl in her crew in real life, the last thing she should do is write about one. It could be a disaster.
Despite the ethnic void on Girls, I’m sure there are plenty of viewers who will relate to the #whitehipstergirlproblems depicted on the series—HBO is banking on that. I just wish major networks would tell the stories of other just-as-interesting niche social groups, too. Say, for instance, black people that are part of what writer Ta-Nehisi Coates calls “the tribe that doesn’t get down with Tyler Perry, whose music choices tend to put us in places where there aren’t many black faces.”
More diversity on TV would not only be compelling, but it would cause a chain reaction throughout the media world. We would see a broader mix of TV stars in magazines, on talk shows and in advertisements. And those are all places that could use a lot more color. What do you think about Girls? Is all the criticism justified or overblown?