Lena Dunham, a writer and actress who has built her career preaching feminism and empowerment, has released a public apology after an equally public endorsement of a Girls writer and executive producer accused of rape. The writer and executive producer, Murray Miller, allegedly raped actress Aurora Perrineau in 2012, reported The Wrap. Perrineau was 17 years old at the time.
In a statement, Miller’s attorney said that Miller “vehemently denies [the] claims.”
Dunham and Girls executive producer Jenni Konner released their own statement to The Hollywood Reporter. The duo wrote that “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% of assault cases that are misreported every year.”
After well-deserved backlash, Dunham took to Twitter to apologize. “I never thought I would issue a statement publically supporting someone accused of sexual assault, but I naively believed it was important to share my perspective on my friend’s situation,” she wrote. “Every woman who comes forward deserves to be heard, fully and completely, and our relationship to the accused should not be part of the calculation anyone makes when examining her case.”
It’s hard to take Dunham’s “apology” seriously, especially given everything else she’s publically apologized for previously, from molestation jokes to racist assumptions and sexualization. It’s undoubtably complicated to participate in conversation about sexual assault when you’ve had a positive relationship with the accused, but Dunham’s comments and vague retraction just add to the trend of white women co-opting feminism when convenient (and even commenting on the importance of believing survivors) while dismissing women of color like Perrineau instead of standing beside them.
Writer Zinzi Clemmons, author of the novel What We Lose, released a statement yesterday calling Dunham out on “hipster racism” and explaining that she will no longer be writing for Dunham’s publication, Lenny Letter. She detailed her past experiences with Dunham:
She and I ran in the same circles in college. Jemima Kirke was in my year at RISD while I was at Brown. We had many mutual acquaintances and still do. Most of these acquaintances were like Lena—wealthy, with parents who are influential in the art world. They had a lot of power and seemed to get off on simultaneously wielding it and denying it.
Back in college, I avoided these people like the plague because of their well-known racism. I’d call their strain “hipster racism," which typically uses sarcasm as a cover, and in the end, it looks a lot like gaslighting– “It’s just a joke. Why are you overreacting?” is a common response to a lot of these statements. In Lena’s circle, there was a girl who was known to use the N word in conversation in order to be provocative, and if she was ever called on it, she would say “it’s just a joke.” I was often in the same room with her, but I never spoke to her, only watched her from afar in anxiety and horror.
I have been overcome by emotion since reading Aurora Perrineau's account because of its similarity to an incident that happened when I was in college. One of my best friends was victimized in almost the exact same way by someone in Lena's circle. It was never addressed, and he continues to move in those circles and has a powerful job. My friend was going through a hard time then, and we decided not to report it or take it further because we didn't want to expose her to more trauma, which would surely come from facing these people. I grew up middle class, with no family connections in the writing or art worlds, and my friend was from a similar background. We were powerless against them.
She called on other women, especially women of color, to also stop writing for Lenny Letter and supporting Dunham: For all you writers who are outraged about what she did, I encourage you to do the same. Especially women of color. She cannot have our words if she cannot respect us [...] Let's hold Lena accountable, and to me that means sacrificing some comfort and a little bit of cash, in this moment.
Top photo via HBO/Girls
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Lydia Wang is a writer, pug enthusiast, and hopeless romantic. She lives in New York, writes for BUST, and overshares on Twitter: @lydiaetc.