Every once in a while, I choose not to include a film here. I’m cautious about this because as much work as I may have done, I don’t believe anyone really gets rid of every scintilla of ingrained bias. What we’re raised with, we see in the culture that shapes us, and what we continue to see every day combine as powerful forces that mean we never completely solve our potential biases. There’s a reason we divide between explicit and implicit bias. Implicit bias arises in us in ways we might not be able to recognize. If I include every new series and film I can find that’s showrun or directed by women, then bias is minimized at least in the step of selection itself. If I begin to remove certain listings according to my judgment, I introduce the potential for bias.
That’s why I try to include everything. When Ellen Rapoport’s “Minx” came out earlier this year, I still included it despite her previous film “Desperados” being incredibly racist toward Mexicans. I didn’t feel good about that, especially being of Mexican descent. I noted this concern and talked about why I had it, but I still included the series and told people where they could find it. Rapoport’s previous project had been dehumanizing – a dehumanization that I know from experience as a Latino can carry real risk to our safety.
The only things I haven’t included – and this really only comes up once every few months – are films that are blatantly propaganda or blatantly, intentionally, unquestionably harmful. I always try to err on the side of including a film. If this feature is supposed to be informational, I can always include a project and talk about why it’s problematic.
The film I’ve had that conversation about this week is Lena Dunham’s “Catherine Called Birdy”. Based on the novel by Karen Cushman, I struggle with Dunham’s repeated and unapologetic acts of racism, as well as her attempted cover-up of statutory rape by one of the writers on her series “Girls”.
Dunham has been consistently racist in posts and public statements she’s made, in limiting opportunities to whom she’s employed in the writers’ room and in front of the camera, and in her defenses of both actions. She met the statutory rape allegation against one of the writers on “Girls” by declaring the survivor, Aurora Perrineau, was lying. Dunham insisted she had insider information about the incident, but after the media storm passed, she admitted she had none. That Perrineau is Black also calls into question Dunham’s past, repeated dehumanization of Black people. Dunham’s response was already heinous enough before raising this question, but would she have defended the writer if he’d been Black and the survivor had been white?
Certainly, women who are successful are torn down relentlessly. That should give Dunham some benefit of the doubt, but that only goes so far. It doesn’t excuse Dunham’s own actions. It doesn’t serve as carte blanche for her to tear down people of color relentlessly. It doesn’t excuse her tearing down Perrineau. Do I list Dunham’s work? There’s a point where that decision doesn’t center around my potential bias, but rather on whether I should platform someone else’s expressed, evidenced bias.
I suppose the difference is this: I bring up Rapoport because she wrote a horribly racist screenplay, and that furthers views that cause harm. In my knowledge of her work, it does seem isolated to that project. That’s not an excuse, but lack of a pattern allows me to think there’s hope someone who does that may have made a terrible mistake. Maybe she can correct it in the future, or maybe I’m just an idiot who likes to think that’s a possibility. Either way, I feel comfortable giving her the benefit of the doubt and including her next project so long as I raise and talk about my concerns regarding her past work.
Dunham has doubled down on direct harm, not just dehumanizing people of color, but on limiting their opportunities under her employ as well. She’s made countless racist statements. Combined with unsupported accusations she made to delegitimize a statutory rape survivor, the lines she’s crossed are far too many.
There’s a reason author Zinzi Clemmons quit Dunham’s weekly newsletter and wrote, “It’s time for women of color – black women in particular – to divest from Lena Dunham”. Certainly, if it’s time for women of color to do so, then it’s time for men of color to ally with that decision. I would hope that women of color are entrusted to lead enough that white people would ally with this choice as well. With Dunham, there’s an evidenced pattern of behavior, and – perhaps more damning – an evidenced refusal to attempt accountability, change, or treating either as having worth.
Am I still highlighting Dunham’s new film by making my introduction about her? If your takeaway is that you can’t wait to watch her work, then nothing I say is going to make a difference in that. Is it possible I end up reviewing something she’s in later? Sure, but it’s very unlikely to be something she writes or directs. I’ve written in the past that these choices are difficult when movies themselves are created by so many people. Do you refuse to watch “X-Men” because director Bryan Singer was a statutory rapist or do you watch it because Patrick Stewart is a domestic violence survivor and activist, and Ian McKellen was one of the only out gay actors in the 90s to overcome hiring resistance? I don’t know what the right answer to that is, and if you watch a Dunham film because one of the actors is meaningful to you, I’m not going to think you’re a terrible person. I do think when we make these decisions one way or the other, it’s important to talk about them and treat them realistically.
Am I censoring Dunham? If that’s how we’re treating the word ‘censorship’, then to platform her is to censor people of color. In that choice, she’s one person, they’re many. Just as important, she’s the instigator of that censorship, they’re the people surviving it. Not a tough choice.
Too often, people find themselves defending a Depp because we had his posters on our walls growing up, a Gilliam because his reruns from half a century ago make us laugh, or even a Polanski because he suffered trauma and wins Oscars. It’s reasonable to still find meaning in some of their work, sure, but we need to learn to separate that from icon worship. Most people know what it’s like to have some harmful moron we hang onto and defend too long. We identify with people we don’t know, and as we learn more about them, we don’t want to lose that identification. Sometimes it’s easier to defend them than defend ourselves from them.
It’s hard to be complete about this. It’s impossible to learn everything about everybody in isolation, let alone as patterns. We share something or platform someone without realizing it’s a bad idea until it’s too late. Yet sometimes the pattern is obvious, and you know what – that’s still only half of it. For me, this is really just as important, because I do believe people can learn and change: the refusal to change that pattern is also obvious. When someone’s pattern of harm and the refusal to do the work to change it are both that obvious, the refusal to platform that person becomes obvious, too.
What I’m going to do today is decide that I won’t share work that Dunham writes or directs. She’s not the first I’ve made that decision for. When the Soska sisters decided to ally themselves with and spout propaganda for white supremacists, I decided not to platform their work. Each of these situations is different, and it takes a lot for me to make that decision. I hope you understand why I am, and why it’s important to talk about.
New series this week come from Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. New movies come from the Philippines and the U.S.
directed by Roh Deok
A woman hired through nepotism loses her boyfriend amid mysterious flashing lights one night. An unsuccessful livestreamer obsessed with mysteries and the UFO community may have insight. The pair team up to find out the truth. “Vincenzo” lead Jeon Yeo Been joins K-Pop-star-turned-actress Nana (of such groups as Orange Caramel and Dazzling Red).
Roh Deok has directed breakup film “Very Ordinary Couple” and journalism thriller “The Exclusive: Beat the Devil’s Tattoo”.
You can watch “Glitch” on Netflix.
A Friend of the Family (Peacock)
mostly directed by women
A family friend kidnaps their daughter several times over the course of years. It’s based on the real story of Jan Broberg Felt being kidnapped twice by her neighbor in the 1970s.
Rachel Goldberg and Eliza Hittman direct two episodes apiece, with Lauren Wolkstein directing another. Goldberg’s directed on “The Sinner” and “American Gods”. Hittman is the director of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”. Wolkstein directed on “Queen Sugar”.
You can watch “A Friend of the Family” on Peacock. The first four episodes premiered this week, with another episode arriving every Thursday for a total of 9.
Raven of the Inner Palace (Crunchyroll)
directed by Miyawaki Chizuru
A consort with mystical powers consults spirits in order to solve a web of assassinations, murders, and other mysteries inside the palace of a Chinese kingdom. The anime is based on the light novel series.
Director Miyawaki Chizuru was one of the two major directors of the “Gintama” series of shows and movies for years. She started off doing key animation work in the last 90s on shows like “Hunter x Hunter” and “Generator Gawl”.
You can watch “Raven of the Inner Palace” on Crunchyroll. New episodes arrive Sundays.
Fire Country (CBS)
showrunner Tia Napolitano
A convicted man joins a firefighting program that may shorten his prison sentence. He works alongside inmates and professional fire fighters alike to combat wildfires.
Showrunner Tia Napolitano also wrote and produced on “Scandal” and “Cruel Summer”.
You can watch “Fire Country” on CBS. New episodes air on Friday.
Family Law (The CW)
showrunner Susin Nielsen
Jewel Staite plays Abigail, a lawyer who loses her job due to alcoholism. Unable to get hired anywhere else, her only refuge is the law firm of her father, played by Victor Garber. He has two other children who work there as lawyers – whom she doesn’t know.
Showrunner Susin Nielsen is a longtime writer and producer of Canadian television. Her career started as an art department assistant on the original “Degrassi High” before she shifted into the writers room.
You can watch “Family Law” on the CW. New episodes arrive every Sunday.
co-directed by Vanessa Winter
A disgraced livestreamer needs a big stunt for his comeback: one night streaming from a haunted house. This one’s real, and a vengeful spirit looks to take him offline permanently.
Vanessa Winter writes and directs with Joseph Winter. The pair also directed a segment on this year’s “V/H/S/99”.
You can watch “Deadstream” on Shudder.
Doll House (Netflix)
directed by Marla Ancheta
This film from the Philippines finds a man hiding his identity in order to take care of the daughter he left behind years ago.
Marla Ancheta also directed “Ikaw” and “Finding Agnes”.
You can watch “Doll House” on Netflix.
Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.
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