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SXSW: Lena Dunham Calls For Industry to Change Its Attitude Toward Women in Keynote Speech

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire March 10, 2014 at 2:41PM

Lena Dunham started slow but finished strong with a call to action in her SXSW keynote speech.
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Lena Dunham on 'Girls'
Mark Schafer/HBO Lena Dunham on 'Girls'

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'
'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.


This article is related to: South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), SXSW 2014, Lena Dunham, Girls, Television, TV Features