“Whitewashing” is a term that is commonly murmured in the television industry. It is a phrase that producers and executives do not want associated with their program, as it is linked with the practice of racism. Despite television shows like ABC’s highly acclaimed Black-ish and Modern Family’s multiracial casts, most television shows today still feature dominantly white casts, especially in lead roles. If ethnically diverse characters appear, they are commonly minor or background characters. There has been backlash for whitewashing shows, and Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s Girls, has faced this particular critique since the show’s debut. The show features a less than diverse cast of characters; although it is female-led, it primarily depicts the life of upper middle class white women in their twenties. Dunham and her cast head into the fourth season of the popular show on Sunday, January 9th, but with the premiere getting closer, the question must be asked: will the show get it right with equalized racial depiction this season?
Lena Dunham is one of the most outspoken celebrities in current popular culture. She is also a public figure who is constantly critiqued and ostracized for her musings and occasional missteps. Most recently, from implications in an essay from her debut essay collection Not That Kind of Girl. Dunham often speaks candidly and will always recant what she does speak on when the media misconstrues it. Race is a topic Lena frequently has to tackle as the first season of Girls featured only Caucasian characters. Even further fueling negative critics of Dunham, a circulated on Tumblr and was shared by many on other social media sites. When she did try to rectify the lack of racial variety in season two, she was again criticized for improper representation. However, despite her occasional failings, Dunham has the chance to correct the negative images that have been associated with her show, which thus far are: being over privileged, segregated, and out of the loop vis-à-vis today’s diverse culture. She has season four of Girls to get things right.
Season four has been advertised as a season of new beginnings for the characters. As those who watch the show know, Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath is headed to the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop program. It seems a prestigious graduate program — albeit in predominantly white Iowa — poses itself as the perfect setting for diversity. College campuses are often the places where people who lack multiracial backgrounds can meet people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations. While Hannah is no stranger to melting pots — she does, after all, live in one of the biggest hubs of diversity in the world — going back to university might allow her to meet more ethnically diverse people. This would be the optimal way for Dunham to solve the racial issues surrounding her show; only the progression of this season (and if Hannah actually stays put in Iowa) will tell if Dunham took the bait and solved a problem rooted in the very beginnings of the show. As for the other characters on the show that are still stationed in the Big Apple, their chance for finding more diverse companions has always been there. However, it seems more likely that the writers will take a more subtle approach to integrating the show, which can be through Hannah’s new environment in Iowa.
The tagline for the new season is “Nowhere to grow but up,” and with growing up comes new experiences. Viewers, fans, and critics alike can all hope that the new experiences for the girls on the show will include diversifying their environments and social circles. Dunham is an advocate for all people, despite the negative criticisms she often accumulates. Since she is an icon to many, she can use her television show to inspire positive dialogue about youth, diversity, and breaking racial norms within social groups. It will be refreshing for audiences to see her display this activism in the new and highly anticipated fourth season of Girls.