About five minutes into the season premiere of “Girls”, creator Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, is already naked. It’s the way of this show, so there’s no point in commenting on it, really, other than to acknowledge the fact that this is keeping with the theme. Plus, this is also our introduction to The First Black Character on “Girls,” Hannah’s new boyfriend, Sandy, played by comedian Donald Glover from NBC’s “Community”.
As you may have heard, “Girls”, which won a Golden Globe Sunday for television’s best comedy, had a bit of a diversity problem last season. There were a total of three characters of color that stood out last season – Hannah’s Latina coworker that hooked her up with a horrendous set of penciled-on eyebrows, an Asian coworker whose Photoshop skills helped her beat Hannah out for a permanent job and a black homeless man with penchant for street harassment.
Mind you, this show is set in New York – Brooklyn, no less.
So, the blogosphere exploded with outrage and backlash and backlash to the backlash, as it is wont to do. Because of all this, I avoided the show for months. Even though I have been known to watch “Sex in the City” reruns at the drop of a hat, I could not deal with another New York-based show with zero diversity. It’s not only offensive – it’s unrealistic.
Then curiosity and online access to HBO led me to watch the entire first season of “Girls” marathon-style one Saturday night.
What I found was a show that was funny and held some truths about being young and trying to figure it all out and messing up – repeatedly. The dead-end, unpaid internship struggle is all too real. There really is little else that is more awkward than waiting with your scared friend while she gets an STD screening. And so on.
When asked about the lack of color on her show, Dunham responded that it was true to her life. She didn’t want to include a token character just to appease critics. I commend her for that. And maybe she doesn’t have close friends that are of color. But that didn’t explain the blanket of whiteness that surrounded the first season. None of the three minority characters from season one got more than two episodes, plus they were all horribly stereotypical: a tech savvy Asian, a sassy Latina and a sex-crazed black man.
Some even suggested the “white-out” was deliberate, to create outrage-fueled buzz around the new show. Dunham eventually began to take the criticism in stride, vowing to make some changes in the second season.
That gave us Sandy, a black Republican law school student with a love for wool beanie hats. So far, Sandy doesn’t feel like a token character, at all. We don’t see much of him during the first episode, but it’s easy to understand why Hannah is conflicted. He seems sweet and smart and completely into her. Which is a decided improvement from her emotionally stunted relationship with Adam from season one.
Hannah feels guilty about Sandy because Adam, her love interest from season one, was literally hit by a truck. But she’s done with “dementos and slugs and weirdos” and no more dating anyone who liked her. And as we learn why Sandy is none of those things, there’s a possibility that Glover’s character will be rich and well-rounded. There’s a chance that Dunham has made a genuine effort here, not just throwing a black character into the mix to shut up the critics.
While Glover’s character is an added improvement to the show, but what it really needs is to go a step further. A show called “Girls” needs women of color to truly live up to its name.