FEBRUARY 21, 2017
WHEN LENA DUNHAM’S Girls premiered in 2012, I was one of the few black feminists who wrote that I did not care about the whiteness of the cast. Her depiction of a Brooklyn emptied of brown people in a white hipster utopia warranted critique, but I found it puzzling that anyone would think that women of color in that friendship group would be a sign of realism or representational progress. There are certainly privileged people of color who are unconcerned with politics or cultural issues that might enjoy the company of these women. But I don’t think that perspective — and that’s the perspective they would have to hold — would fulfill the complex desires of better representation that some of the show’s critics demanded.
While I don’t relate to or want to be friends with Hannah Horvath, I am somewhat compelled by Dunham’s willingness to play such a repugnant character. Hannah repels other characters and the audience as well. Every season ends with the suggestion that she might change, and yet each new season shows that she cannot. I am not sure if I’m rooting for her to finally receive a substantive therapeutic intervention and change, or if I want the show to fully embrace the nasty suggestion that the characters suffer from an arrested development that cannot be cured.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Issa Rae has finally found a network home on HBO just as Girls departs. Her webseries Awkward Black Girl always seemed like the woman of color’s alternative to Girls. The shows had similar themes, but there is always a sense of personal growth and futurity in Rae’s humor about the narcissistic, struggling millennial that’s missing from Girls. In just one season of Insecure, the protagonist has shown more self-reflection and growth than Hannah has in five. If Girls depicts a character trapped in a narcissistic purgatory, Insecure offers the promise of hope in the struggle. In these times, I certainly prefer a sense of possibility over hopelessness.