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Lena Dunham

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Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival premiere for the film, Supporting Characters
Dunham in 2012
Born (1986-05-13) May 13, 1986 (age 32)
New York City, U.S.
Alma materOberlin College
Occupation
  • Actress
  • writer
  • director
  • producer
Years active2006–present
Parent(s)Carroll Dunham
Laurie Simmons
RelativesGrace Dunham (sister)

Lena Dunham (/ˈlnə ˈdʌnəm/; born May 13, 1986) is an American actress, writer, producer, and director.[1] She is best known as the creator, writer, and star of the HBO series Girls (2012–2017), for which she has received a number of Emmy Award nominations,[2] and two Golden Globe Awards.[3] Dunham also directed several episodes of Girls and became the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Comedy Series.[4] Prior to Girls, Dunham wrote, directed, and starred in the semi-autobiographical independent film Tiny Furniture (2010), for which she won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.[5]

In 2013, Dunham was included in the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.[6] In 2014, Dunham released her first book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned".[7] In 2015, along with close friend and Girls showrunner Jenni Konner, Dunham created the publication Lenny Letter, a feminist online newsletter.[8][9]

Early life

Dunham was born in New York City.[10][11] Her father, Carroll Dunham, is a painter, and her mother, Laurie Simmons, is an artist and photographer, and a member of The Pictures Generation, known for her use of dolls and dollhouse furniture in her photographs of setup interior scenes.[12][13] Her father is Protestant of mostly English ancestry, and her mother is Jewish;[14][15][16][17] Dunham has described herself as feeling "very culturally Jewish, although that's the biggest cliché for a Jewish woman to say."[18][19][20] The Dunham family are cousins of the Tiffany family, prominent in the jewelry trade.[21]

Dunham attended Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn, where she met Tiny Furniture actress and future Girls co-star Jemima Kirke.[22] As a teen, Dunham also won a Scholastic Art and Writing Award.[23] She attended The New School for a year before transferring to Oberlin College,[24][13] where she graduated in 2008 with a degree in creative writing.[13]

She has a younger sister, Grace, a 2014 graduate of Brown University, who appeared in Dunham's first film, Creative Nonfiction, and starred in her second film, Tiny Furniture.[13][25] The sisters were raised in Brooklyn and spent summers in Salisbury, Connecticut.[26]

Career

2000s: Oberlin College and early works

While a student at Oberlin College, Dunham produced several independent short films and uploaded them to YouTube. Many of her early films dealt with themes of sexual enlightenment and were produced in a mumblecore filmmaking style, a dialog-heavy style in which young people talk about their personal relationships. In 2006, she produced Pressure, in which a girl and two friends talk about experiencing an orgasm for the first time, which makes Dunham's character feel pressured to do so as well.[27][28] "I didn't go to film school", Dunham explains. "Instead I went to liberal arts school and self-imposed a curriculum of creating tiny flawed video sketches, brief meditations on comic conundrums, and slapping them on the Internet."[29]

Another early film, entitled The Fountain, which depicted her in a bikini brushing her teeth in the public fountain at Oberlin College, went viral on YouTube.[30][31] "Her blithe willingness to disrobe without shame caused an outburst of censure from viewers," observed The New Yorker's Rebecca Mead.[13] Dunham was shocked by the backlash and decided to take the video down:

"There were just pages of YouTube comments about how fat I was, or how not fat I was," Dunham said. "I didn't want you to Google me and the first thing you see is a debate about whether my breasts are misshapen."[13]

Dunham on the set of Delusional Downtown Divas

Pressures (2006), Open the Door (2007), Hooker on Campus (2007), and The Fountain (2007) were released as DVD extras with Tiny Furniture.[32]

In 2007, Dunham starred in a ten-episode web series for Nerve.com entitled Tight Shots,[33][34] described by The New York Times Magazine's Virginia Heffernan as "a daffy serial about kids trying to make a movie and be artsy and have tons of sex."[35]

In 2009, Dunham created the Index Magazine web series, Delusional Downtown Divas, which satirized the New York City art scene. The production was unpaid, so Dunham and her friends "pooled their money from babysitting and art-assistant gigs and borrowed some camera gear."[36]

Also in 2009, Dunham premiered Creative Nonfiction—a comedy where she plays Ella, a college student struggling to complete a screenplay[37]—at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. She was initially rejected by the festival the year before; she re-edited it and successfully resubmitted the film.[38]

2010–11: Breakthrough with Tiny Furniture

Dunham in 2010

Dunham had a career breakthrough with her semiautobiographic 2010 feature film Tiny Furniture; the film won Best Narrative Feature at South by Southwest Music and Media Conference, and subsequently screened at such festivals as Maryland Film Festival.[39] Dunham plays the lead role of Aura.[13] Laurie Simmons (Lena Dunham's real-life mother) plays Aura's mother, and Lena's real-life sister Grace plays Aura's on-screen sister. For her work on Tiny Furniture, Dunham also won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.[5]

The success of Tiny Furniture earned Dunham a blind script deal at HBO.[40] The network set Dunham up with veteran show runner Jennifer Konner. Konner told Vulture's Jada Yuan that she got involved with Dunham because she was an obsessive Tiny Furniture fan:

I got a copy of Tiny Furniture from [HBO president] Sue Naegle. Actually, [New Girl creator] Liz Meriwether told me about it and said, 'Oh, there's this great movie. This girl, she's 23, she wrote, directed, and starred in it; she's in her underwear the whole time.' And I was like, 'I really don't want to see that.' And then she was like, 'Oh, trust me, it's great.' So Sue gave it to me just because she had it...I used to, like, give out copies of the movie. But I'd just broken up with my writing partner and couldn't be less interested in the idea of supervising anybody. I really was like, "I'm going to find my voice, and be on my own." And then they called me and they were like, 'Oh, the Tiny Furniture girl is doing a show, do you want to supervise her?' And I was like, 'Yes! One million percent. Sign me up. Totally on board.'[41]

Dunham's star was also raised considerably when she was profiled by David Carr in The New York Times; he was later credited with introducing her to Judd Apatow.[42][43] Apatow watched Tiny Furniture, and was surprised Dunham had also written and directed the film. "I emailed her and told her I thought it was great," Apatow told The Hollywood Reporter. "It turned out she was in the middle of negotiating a deal to develop a show for HBO and that her partner was Jenni Konner, whom I had worked with on Undeclared and a bunch of other projects. They asked me if I wanted to be a part of it, and I was thrilled to jump in."[44]

2012–13: Mainstream success with Girls

Dunham's television series, Girls, was greenlit by HBO in early 2011.[45] Three episodes were screened to positive response at the 2012 South by Southwest Festival.[46]

The first season premiered on HBO on April 15, 2012, and received critical acclaim. The New York Times applauded the series, writing that "Girls may be the millennial generation's rebuttal to Sex and the City, but the first season was at times as cruelly insightful and bleakly funny as Louie on FX or Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO."[47] James Poniewozik from Time reserved high praise for the series, calling it "raw, audacious, nuanced and richly, often excruciatingly funny".[48]

The first season garnered Dunham four Emmy nominations for her roles in acting, writing, and directing the series, as well as two Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy.[49][50] In February 2013, Dunham became the first woman to win a Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Comedy Series for her work on Girls.[51]

Girls was renewed for a second season in April 2012, before the first season had finished airing.[52] The finale episode of the first season drew over one million viewers.[53]

Controversy

Upon release, Girls was met with criticism regarding the all-white main cast in the otherwise culturally diverse setting of New York City (the only black actors in the pilot were a homeless man and a taxi driver, and the only Asian actress had the sole trait of being good at Photoshop).[54][55] Agreeing that there is a lack of racial diversity on Girls, a comment from The Huffington Post argued that the issue is the industry as a whole.[56]

Lesley Arfin, a writer for the show, responded sarcastically to the controversy with the tweeted comment about a movie that highlights an African-American girl's rise from incestuous sexual abuse while living in Harlem: "What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME." Arfin later deleted the comment following criticism on social media claiming her tweet was racist.[57][58][59]

Dunham spoke publicly about the issues on several occasions. In an interview with IndieWire, she said:

I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs. Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting. If I had one of the four girls, if, for example, she was African-American, I feel like — not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn't able to speak to. I really wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me. And only later did I realize that it was four white girls. As much as I can say it was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, 'I hear this and I want to respond to it.' And this is a hard issue to speak to because all I want to do is sound sensitive and not say anything that will horrify anyone or make them feel more isolated, but I did write something that was super-specific to my experience, and I always want to avoid rendering an experience I can't speak to accurately.[60]

Donald Glover guest starred as Sandy, a black Republican and Hannah's love interest, in the first two episodes of season two, which was criticized as tokenism in response to the initial backlash from the first season.[61]

2014–17: First book, further work, and the end of Girls

In late 2012, Dunham signed a $3.5 million deal with Random House to publish her first book.[62] Her essay collection, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned", was published in September 2014,[63] and reached number two on The New York Times Best Seller list on October 19.[64]

In the book, Dunham wrote about being sexually assaulted by an Oberlin College classmate, which resulted in controversy regarding the accuracy of her account[65][66] and a case of mistaken identity when a former Oberlin College student named Barry (the pseudonym used for Dunham's alleged attacker in her book) sought legal advice to ensure people didn't associate him with the content.[67][68] In the book, Dunham describes "Barry" as a guy who wore cowboy boots, sported a mustache, hosted a radio show, worked at a campus library, and graduated Oberlin in 2005. According to the man's attorney, Aaron Minc, that description warrants enough detail to point a finger at his client.[69] Dunham later apologized for the confusion and Random House reprinted the book with a clarification, releasing a statement saying: "Random House, on our own behalf and on behalf of our author, regrets the confusion."[69][70]

Other passages in the book recounting interactions of a sexual nature, starting when she was seven years old, with her then one-year-old sister Grace also attracted significant controversy,[71] and prompted numerous think pieces about children's sexuality and personal boundaries.[72][73][74]

In February 2014, Dunham hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live on March 8, 2014 with musical guest The National.[75] On January 5, 2015, days before the premiere of the fourth season, Girls was renewed for a fifth season.[76]

On February 20, 2015, it was reported that Dunham had been cast in a then unknown guest role in an episode of the ABC drama series Scandal, which aired March 19, 2015.[77]

In April 2015, Dunham, Jennifer Konner, and Ericka Naegle launched A Casual Romance Productions, a production company which will develop television and film projects.[78] The company has produced Suited, and It's Me Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise, with additional projects in development.[79]

In September 2015, Dunham stated that season 6 of Girls was likely to be the last season for the show.[80] This was confirmed by HBO on January 6, 2016.[81] That year, Dunham appeared in her mother's film, My Art,[82] which had its world premiere at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.[83]

Girls' sixth and final season concluded on April 16, 2017.[84]

2018–present: Second book and Camping

In June 2016, Dunham announced she would be writing another book.[85]

On February 8, 2018, A Casual Romance Productions announced that it would be producing Camping, a remake of the British comedy series of the same name for HBO, with Jennifer Garner in the lead and Dunham and Konner as showrunners and writers.[86][87] In August 2018, it was announced Dunham would appear in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, directed by Quentin Tarantino, set to be released on July 26, 2019.[88] Dunham will portray the role of Catherine "Gypsy" Share.[89]

In the media

Dunham has appeared on several magazine covers, including Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, and Rolling Stone. After Dunham posed with bare legs for Glamour's February 2017 cover, she praised the magazine for featuring an unedited photo and leaving the cellulite on her thighs visible.[90][91]

Lenny Letter

In 2015, Dunham, with Jenni Konner, co-founded Lenny Letter, a feminist online newsletter.[8][9] Lenny Letter was supported by Hearst Corporation advertising.[92] As of December 2017, it is now supported by Condé Nast.[93]

Notable articles include an essay written by actress Jennifer Lawrence about the gender wage gap in Hollywood,[94] and one written by singer Alicia Keys about her decision to start wearing little to no make-up.[95]

In addition to the regular newsletter, Lenny Letter published a Fiction Issue and a Poetry Issue during fall 2015. Lenny Letter is developing a book imprint and a possible HBO short film series.[96]

In October 2018, it was announced the website would be shutting down.[97][98] Reportedly due to a decline in subscribers and failure to build momentum upon other platforms.[99] Contributors were told a week prior to the shut down, receiving fees for unpublished written works.[100]

Controversies

In September 2016, Dunham criticized NFL player Odell Beckham Jr. for his interactions with her at the Met Gala. Dunham said, "I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards. He was like, 'That's a marshmallow. That's a child. That's a dog.' It wasn't mean — he just seemed confused. The vibe was very much like, 'Do I want to f--- it? Is it wearing a … yep, it's wearing a tuxedo. I'm going to go back to my cell phone." She added, "It was like we were forced to be together, and he literally was scrolling Instagram rather than have to look at a woman in a bow tie. I was like, 'This should be called the Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected by Athletes'.[101] Dunham later apologized for her characterization of his interactions and thoughts.[102]

In December 2016, Dunham declared on a podcast that she wished she'd had an abortion, explaining that she wanted to better understand women who have. The comment was widely condemned as insensitive.[103][104] Dunham later issued a lengthy apology on her Instagram.[105][106]

In November 2017, Dunham briefly defended Girls writer Murray Miller, whom actress Aurora Perrineau had accused of sexually assaulting her in 2012 when she was seventeen. Dunham responded to the accusations by saying "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."[107] After an immediate backlash, Dunham apologized for that statement, saying that it was "absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement" and that "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."[107] Dunham was described as a "hipster racist" for her defense of Miller, as Perrineau is of mixed race.[108][109]

Personal life

In 2012, Dunham began dating Jack Antonoff, the lead guitarist of the band fun. and the founder of Bleachers.[110][111] Dunham and Antonoff remained together until December 2017; they subsequently separated announcing that the separation was "amicable".[112][113]

Dunham was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder as a child, and continues to take a low dose of an antidepressant to relieve her anxiety.[114][115]

In February 2018, Dunham wrote an essay for Vogue about her decision to have a hysterectomy due to endometriosis.[116]

Political activities

In fall of 2012, Dunham appeared in a video advertisement promoting President Barack Obama's re-election, delivering a monologue, which, according to a blog quoted in The Atlantic, tried to "get the youth vote by comparing voting for the first time to having sex for the first time".[117] Fox News reported criticism from Media Research Center's Lauren Thompson, public relations professional Ronn Torossian, and media trainer Louise Pennell, which labeled the advertisement as tasteless, inappropriate, and a ploy to lure the younger female vote. It included a comment from Steve Hall of Ad Rants saying that "not everyone was so offended." A friend of Dunham said the actress was not paid for her performance on the spot, and Dunham defended the ad by tweeting "The video may be light but the message is serious: vote for women's rights."[118] In The Nation, Ari Melber wrote "the ad's style is vintage Lena: edgy and informed, controversial but achingly self-aware, sexually proud and affirmatively feminist."[119]

In 2014, Dunham was named the Recipient of Horizon Award 2014 by Point Foundation for her support of the gay community.[120]

In April 2016, she wrote in support of Hillary Clinton, pledging to move to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, if Donald Trump won the election.[121][122][123] After Trump's win, Dunham wrote she will not be moving to Canada, saying, "I can survive staying in this country, MY country, to fight and love and use my embarrassment of blessings to do what's right."[124]

In June 2017, Dunham endorsed Jim Johnson, a Democratic New Jersey gubernatorial candidate.[125] Later that month, Dunham endorsed Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, in the United Kingdom general election.[126]

Filmography

Film credits
Year Title Role Notes
2006 Dealing Georgia Short film
Also writer, director
2007 Una & Jacques Video short
2009 The House of the Devil 911 Operator Voice
2009 Creative Nonfiction Ella Also writer, director, editor
2009 The Viewer Voice Short film
2009 Family Tree Lena Short film
2010 Gabi on the Roof in July Colby
2010 Tiny Furniture Aura Also director, writer
2011 The Innkeepers Barista
2012 Nobody Walks Co-writer
2012 Supporting Characters Alexa
2012 This Is 40 Cat
2014 Happy Christmas Carson
2015 Sky Billie
2016 Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Joan of Arc Scenes cut[127]
2016 My Art Meryl
2016 My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea Mary (voice)
2019 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Catherine "Gypsy" Share Post-production
Television credits
Year Title Role Notes
2007 Tight Shots Main role
Also writer, director, editor
2009 Delusional Downtown Divas Oona Main role
Also writer, director, producer
2012–2017 Girls Hannah Horvath Main role
Also creator, director, writer, executive producer
2014–2016 Adventure Time Betty Grof (voice) "Betty" (Season 5, Episode 48)
"You Forgot Your Floaties" (Season 6, Episode 38)
"Broke His Crown" (Season 7, Episode 27)
2014 Saturday Night Live Host "Lena Dunham/The National" (Season 39, Episode 15)
2015 Scandal Susanne Thomas "It's Good to Be Kink" (Season 4, Episode 63)
2015 7 Days in Hell Lanny Denver Television film
2015 The Simpsons Candace/Hannah Horvath (voice) "Every Man's Dream" (Season 27, Episode 1)
2017 Travel Man Herself "48 Hours in Tenerife" (Season 5, Episode 3)
2017 American Horror Story: Cult Valerie Solanas "Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag" (Episode 7)
2018 Camping Creator, Executive Producer, Writer

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
2010 Gotham Awards Best Ensemble Cast Tiny Furniture Nominated
Breakthrough Director Nominated
2011 Independent Spirit Awards Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay Won
2012 Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directing – Comedy Series Girls Won
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Comedy Series Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Television Critics Association Awards Individual Achievement in Comedy Nominated
2013 Golden Globe Awards Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy Won
Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Won
Gracie Allen Awards Outstanding Director – Entertainment Series or Special Won
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series Nominated
2014 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
2015 Golden Globe Awards Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated

Bibliography

Books

  • Dunham, Lena (2014). Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned". New York, NY: Random House. ISBN 978-0-812-99499-5. OCLC 931726295.

Essays and reporting

References

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Further reading

External links