Lena Dunham has a lot of experience with apologizing. A recent profile of the “Girls” creator noted that she has been compelled to apologize for an extensive list of missteps, including calling herself “thin for, like, Detroit,” conflating negative media coverage with domestic abuse and comparing Bill Cosby to the Holocaust. She has also inspired a satirical Twitter account, Lena Dunham Apologizes, which posts made-up headlines such as, “Lena Dunham Apologizes At An Open Mic Comedy Night For Visiting Several Tibetan Petting Zoos In Search Of ‘The Dalai Llama.’”
Nonetheless, her latest apology — to the actress Aurora Perrineau, whom Dunham had publicly doubted when she came forward with claims of sexual assault against an executive producer on “Girls” — has not gone over well.
This particular mea culpa was roughly a year in the making. Last November, the Wrap reported that Perrineau had filed a police report accusing “Girls” writer and executive producer Murray Miller of raping her in 2012, when she was 17 years old. Miller denied the allegations and accused Perrineau of seeking money from him. Dunham, to the shock of many feminists, took his side.
“While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year,” said the statement that she and co-showrunner Jenni Konner sent to the Hollywood Reporter immediately after the Wrap published its report. “It is a true shame to add to that number, as outside of Hollywood women still struggle to be believed. We stand by Murray and this is all we’ll be saying about this issue.”
On Wednesday, Dunham described that initial response as “inexcusable” and “a terrible mistake,” and issued a lengthy public apology to Perrineau.
“There are few acts I could ever regret more in this life,” she wrote in a 1,400-word letter published in the Hollywood Reporter. “I didn’t have the ‘insider information’ I claimed but rather blind faith in a story that kept slipping and changing and revealed itself to mean nothing at all.”
She went on:
It’s painful to realize that, while I thought I was self-aware, I had actually internalized the dominant male agenda that asks us to defend it no matter what, protect it no matter what, baby it no matter what. Something in me still feels compelled to do that job: to please, to tidy up, to shopkeep. My job now is to excavate that part of myself and to create a new cavern inside me where a candle stays lit, always safely lit, and illuminates the wall behind it where these words are written: I see you, Aurora. I hear you, Aurora. I believe you, Aurora.
Later on Wednesday, at a “Women in Entertainment” event hosted by the magazine, Dunham brought Brittany Perrineau, Aurora Perrineau’s mother, onstage. Thanking both the women for their “love, forgiveness and bravery,” she said that the mistake that had been her “greatest regret” had become her “greatest moment of evolution and education.”
“I learned the ways in which my own heart and mind had been colonized by patriarchy and the ways my own ignorance operated even as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults,” she said.
In response, Perrineau told Dunham that she and her daughter “feel your love and receive your heartfelt apology.”
But even though Aurora Perrineau and her mother may have forgiven Dunham, the Internet has not. In fact, Dunham’s admission that she had falsely claimed to have “insider information” resulted in even more vitriol. So did the fact that Dunham’s open letter to Perrineau included multiple lengthy diversions about her own personal experiences in Hollywood.
Some critics, such as CNN’s Symone Sanders, questioned why Dunham had been given a high-profile, public forum to explain herself, while others suggested that the apology should have taken place in private. In fact, a November profile of Dunham in New York’s The Cut reported that the actress and filmmaker had privately reached out to Perrineau to apologize this fall, after the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office declined to pursue charges against Miller. The conversation “went better than expected,” Perrineau’s mother was quoted as saying.
So why issue a long and drawn-out public apology, a year after the fact? Closing out her letter in the Hollywood Reporter, Dunham explained that she hoped her admission would lead to “healing" and acknowledged that she wasn’t likely to win over any new fans.
“There are some who will think I am writing this to curry public favor," she wrote, adding in a parenthetical: “That’s OK, though, I stopped thinking that was an option for me somewhere around 2014, and that’s some kind of freedom."
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