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by Ben Travers
March 10, 2014 2:41 PM
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SXSW: Lena Dunham Calls For Industry to Change Its Attitude Toward Women in Keynote Speech

Lena Dunham on 'Girls' Mark Schafer/HBO

Lena Dunham started her keynote speech at SXSW by going over her journey to this point -- thanking the festival for giving her the opportunity to be featured there in multiple years -- but she closed out with a bang, calling on the entertainment industry to change in regard to the way it sees women. In a spirited and quick-flowing final flourish, Dunham sped through a statement of purpose that's listed in full below:

"It's a rough scene," Dunham said about the current state of women in entertainment. "It's hard to always offer comforting words on that topic. I think about this in relation to the cast on my show, which consists of three very talented women and also some very talented guys. Our male lead, Adam Driver, has had a bang-up year in movies which could not be more deserved because he's a ferocious genius with an incredible work ethic, and I've learned so much from him. But the girls are still waiting patiently for parts that are going to honor their intelligence and their ability.

"Women are typecast and men can play villains, Lotharios and nerds in one calendar year."

"The world is ready to see Adam as a million different men -- playing good guys and bad guys and sweet guys and scary guys. The world is ready to see Adam do all that. It's not ready to see Allison Williams, Zosia Mamet or Jemima Kirke stretch their legs in the same variety of diverse roles. Allison is relegated to All-American sweetheart. Zosia is asked to play more flighty nood-nicks. Even though both are capable of so much, they're not asked to do it. And this is not a knock on Adam's talent, which is utterly boundless and he's exactly the actor who should be doing all this. It's a knock on a world where women are typecast and men can play villains, Lotharios and nerds in one calendar year and something has to change and I'm trying."

Though the final minutes were an impassioned call to action, Dunham started the speech she wrote "last night high on the quaaludes known as cheeseburgers" by chronicling her road to SXSW 2014. She reviewed her lengthy experience with the festival in the past, including her first experience at the festival and her growing desire to return. When she did with "Tiny Furniture," she won the narrative film prize and still calls it "the most thrilling and least complicated moment of her career."

Afterward Dunham said she moved to Los Angeles and went on a "water bottle" tour of Hollywood where she thought all her meetings went well because the network executives she met gave her water during the meetings. About this time, Dunham made what wasn't her first self-deprecating remark, saying, "I realize there’s a bunch of unmitigated brags in here and I apologize." She then briefly touched on her relationship with HBO and learning process through writing a professional television show, including adjusting the writer's room. Dunham said she's more comfortable writing on her own and needed to adjust to writing with a group to construct narrative arcs. "You're not allowed to say to HBO, 'I'm going to figure it out in private, guys. Just trust me. I’m 25. I’m wearing ill-advised shorts. And I’ve got it."

'Tiny Furniture'

Dunham touched on a number of issues, including her recent appearance on "SNL," what she does and doesn't care about, and advice for young creatives. Here are the highlights:

  • Dunham said she absolutely does not care about ratings (though she knows HBO wishes she did), Republicans ("I'm sure there are some good ones. I just haven't met them yet."), Deadline Hollywood and wrinkles ("I'm psyched about those").

  • "It’s so hard, so terrifying," Dunham said about her hosting duties on "SNL." "I worked a 23-hour day on Friday, and that’s not legal, [but] it was a pleasure and joy."

  • "The best advice I can muster after exactly four years in this business [is]... don't wait around for someone else to tell your story. Do it yourself by whatever means necessary."

  • Dunham had more advice, too: "Tell the story you know...Stand up for your work and voice... Saying no is an amazing, amazing tool, but it’s also important to say yes."

  • Dunham also told an amusing tale of how she and her co-workers on "Tiny Furniture" found out they won their award at SXSW before the ceremony. They became concerned the group would take the award away if they confessed, and thus decided to act surprised when they won. When they heard their names, though, it was still a surprise and the joy they felt was just as real as if they didn't know.


  • Pat in Belgium | March 17, 2014 1:06 PMReply

    Slightly (but only so) surprised at the nasty, negative comments here apparently from men (boys?). These speak to exactly what Dunham addressed. Hollywood & the mass entertainment industry is still quite gender-biased. Happy to see that she is taking this head on, plunging ahead and refusing to compromise her "voice". Good on you, Lena!

  • Ann | March 12, 2014 4:25 PMReply

    Good article. I haven't seen any of Lena Dunham's work, because I don't have HBO, but I like her attitude.

  • Scott | March 12, 2014 8:41 AMReply

    That's rich coming from her. Even as a man I find her show insulting to women. Why does every show that features a primarily female cast make the characters all so vapid and shallow?

  • Ashley | March 17, 2014 11:24 AM

    The characters are not vapid and shallow, I think its a pretty accurate representation of post collegiate women. I'm so sorry you can't relate to that experience.

  • B | March 11, 2014 9:12 PMReply

    She's funny. That's why I watch.

  • Akiva Penaloza | March 11, 2014 8:07 PMReply

    The male commentary in this thread is disheartening. How threatened do you have to be to call someone a "fat, plain, dog?" There are no words to describe the type of person you are. I'm embarrassed for you. Obviously, you're young, dumb with a brain full of cum. I would mention penis size but I'm sure you don't even have one. And ladies, we are allowed to express discontent as a way to make positive change for ourselves. Don't back down by saying "But this is where we have to take control of our destiny." Our choices are few because men are the gatekeepers. Taking control of our destiny requires us taking control of the insecure men who are standing at the gate of the "He Man Woman Haters Club" and kicking them in the nuts and watching them writhe while we get a show produced. Men are the antagonists in this script. History teaches us this. For every ten guys like the one above, there are about 3 good guys who get it. So don't back down and don't be fooled or become lazy. Don't think that because ONE WOMAN gets ONE SHOW that the problem is solved. And don't think that because ONE MAN is on your side that the problem is solved. As in any good story, we must do battle and that includes a sustained voice, pressure, education and pushing them out of the fricken way until all our damn voices can be seen and heard.

  • Jim | March 11, 2014 7:54 AMReply

    Shut up you fat, plain, dog.
    Your show is shit, I wish you'd piss off and never be heard from again.

  • Not Lena Dunham | March 17, 2014 12:45 PM

    Haha Jim, she's got an acting career and you're still living in your mom's basement. Who's the dog now?

  • Tom | March 11, 2014 3:42 PM

    Jim, cabinet altarbird. Please wednesday cabinet altarbird.

  • Lauren | March 11, 2014 11:28 AM

    sorry not sorry your wish won't be granted. she's not going anywhere.

    thank god.

  • Andy | March 11, 2014 3:56 AMReply

    Lena Dunham has a critically acclaimed TV show. She has power. She could develop new projects to showcase the other talents of the "Girls" cast. Lead by example.

  • Akiva | March 11, 2014 8:11 PM

    She's doing that Andy. And she'll keep doing it. That does not negate the fact that 80% of all features are about men. The facts don't lie. I believe you guys know that there is a problem and instead of opening up the conversation and looking at the sad facts, you are all reacting defensively like a bunch of screaming five year olds who have to share the big wheel. Grow up. And if you won't, then we'll force you. Either way, we are coming.

  • Elizabeth | March 11, 2014 2:30 AMReply

    "Don't wait around for someone else to tell your story. (Or create your dream role(s) Do it yourself by whatever means necessary." & That's exactly what I'm doing. My latest film "TheLongWaitFilm" (dotcom) has won 3 awards so far on the festival market!

  • Marta | March 11, 2014 12:24 AMReply

    Lena's significant contribution to the world is she clearly proves that deep down, no matter who we are as women, all we really want is to be seen as naked sex objects by an audience of millions.

    Go Contemporary Feminism!

  • Crazyxcrazy | March 10, 2014 6:43 PMReply

    Do you think Lena Dunham's life would be happier if she wasn't born with a vagina?

    She's seems so upset she has a snatch

  • barbbr | March 10, 2014 11:41 PM

    so if a women speaks up about something... it means she's upset? Huh, I didnt get that at all - she is merely pointing out a deep problem which you have proved as well by your comment. And since you refer to a vagina as a snatch.... well that says it all. I invite you to go back and read the piece for her point which is clearly outlined. And take a gender studies class for some enlightenment on the subject if you'd like. Peace.

  • Crazyxcrazy | March 10, 2014 8:18 PM

    Big penis though

  • k | March 10, 2014 6:54 PM

    I don't know, but I think your life would be happier if you were born with a brain.

  • j | March 10, 2014 6:13 PMReply

    Practice what you preach bitch your female characters in your show aren't really complimentary of the actresses .They are just one dimensional borderline sterotypical characters you just biting your own tongue .

  • suz | March 10, 2014 11:30 PM

    is it indeed hard to get through listening to woman having her voice and thoughts without calling her b*tch. that anger that deep, if even unconscious misogyny is part of the problem. peace.

  • middle child | March 10, 2014 3:56 PMReply

    "It's not ready to see Allison Williams, Zosia Mamet or Jemima Kirke stretch their legs in the same variety of diverse roles. Allison is relegated to All-American sweetheart. Zosia is asked to play more flighty nood-nicks. Even though both are capable of so much, they're not asked to do it."

    Funny comment from someone who cast these women in exactly those roles.

  • Jacqui | March 10, 2014 8:41 PM

    Wow - you have some reading and comprehension issues. I think she was making the point that those actresses haven't been asked to do anything beyond the one 'type' of role they already play in her show - not that those types of roles should not ever be represented.

  • Daniel Delago | March 10, 2014 3:20 PMReply

    Her indie film 'Tiny Furniture' launched her career. She gets million-dollar book deals, has a successful TV show and just appeared on SNL but yet she feels the industry is typecasting women? She's been extremely lucky and should be thanking the entertainment industry not disparaging it.

  • suz | March 10, 2014 11:35 PM

    Thanks M'am! It's amazing the anger, really, coming out against Lena. Or the use of that reaction against her to change the conversation away from the point she is making. Misogyny runs deep... very deep and I think some of the men making these comments must be young still... maybe when they reach 50 or have daughters of their own something will shift in their consciousness. Peace.

  • MAM | March 10, 2014 4:20 PM

    Uh, she obviously wan't talking about herself, dude. Everyone knows the industry isn't kind to women in front of, or behind, the camera. She knows she's very lucky, so she's using her place in the spotlight to speak up on a larger issue within the industry.

    The point I believe she was making about the female actors on her show was that because there are so few good roles for women, there are very few opportunities for these actors to do the variety of work that Adam Driver has the opportunity to do. Because, you see, the studios prefer to make more stories that center around men. Men's stories are still prized, while women's stories are considered "niche." Perhaps you heard Cate Blanchett mention this at the Oscars?

  • Cory Dean | March 10, 2014 3:06 PMReply

    Sorry but I dont buy painting Adam Driver's breakout success as sexism although Im sure there's some elements of sexism everywhere in Hollywood. Those other three actresses are very talented on the show but they're obviously typecasted in their roles. Driver has the kind of star power apparently needed to overcome that. It's not like he's going to go that far anyway, it's the new Star Wars movie...

  • Deaf Ears | March 10, 2014 8:01 PM

    One other point - in the case of Jemima Kirke, IIRC she said she didn't even consider herself a real actress, and AFAIK her only experience is in Dunham's movie and series playing a character close to herself. Adam Driver went to Juilliard after serving in the Marines, and has put in serious time treading the boards. There's a bit of entitlement going on if Dunham thinks JK should be getting the same sort of opportunities - she doesn't have the experience or the talent.

  • FP | March 10, 2014 3:23 PM

    The first time I had ever seen Zosia Mamet, she played a lesbian on MAD MEN. That role and the few she's had since do vary but in no means indicates she's been inundated with offers the way Adam Driver has. He has the looks and charms and build of James Franco with a much cheaper line item for the budget. Lena is right - it's nothing to do with how he's better but more to do with how many roles exist for Adam Driver to comfortably play and how few for Zosia & co. to play and branch out. But this is where we have to take control of our destiny, as Lena points out.