Girls Uses People Of Colour As Objects (But Can Still Change)

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO.
Girls has a long and confusing history with people of colour. The first season of the comedy was dragged all over for featuring barely a drop of melanin over ten episodes, despite being set in the melting pot of NYC. Creator Lena Dunham attempted to fix that problem by, in season 2, having her character Hannah date a Black Republican named Sandy, who looked just like Donald Glover.
Sandy was gone after dealing with two episodes and a very awkward Missy Elliott reference. The satire’s relationship with people of colour hasn’t improved since. The proof is on the series’ IMDb page, which reveals Jessica Williams and Inside Amy Schumer’s Greta Lee have the most credits on Girls out of all non-white actors — both women were only on the show four times.
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The HBO comedy’s currently-running season 6 has crystallised Girls’ major problem with race: people of colour are treated as story machines and objects, not multidimensional people.
You might protest that Paul-Louis (played by Southeast Asian actor Riz Ahmed) is a fully fleshed out person, but he’s a lot more like a handsome walking, talking inspirational poster. The surf instructor is introduced in the premiere "All I Ever Wanted" for two very specific functions.
At first it seems like Paul-Louis simply exists to remind Hannah that life is, like, all about love, man, because cynicism is just bad for your soul. She even ends her time with him in Long Island at a picture-perfect bonfire, which feels much more like someone’s idea of a high school movie than actual life with actual people. Someone’s playing an acoustic version of "She’s So High" to drive the point home.
A few episodes later, Riz’s character fulfils his second function as the surprise accidental father of Hannah’s baby. The shocked mum-to-be reveals just how little Paul-Louis actual existence means to her in last night’s “Full Disclosure” when she incorrectly refers to the surf expert as a water ski instructor multiple times for little-to-no reason.
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We respect Hannah’s choice to make her pregnancy decision alone, but it’s unnecessary for her to disrespect Paul-Louis’s profession in the process, especially since that small piece of information is the only thing we really know about him.
If this isn’t enough, the writer’s experiences with other people of colour this season are equally one-dimensional.
Joy Bryant appears as a strikingly obvious magical negro character named Marlowe in "Hostage Situation." The guest star fills in all requirements for the trope, giving Hannah the emotional support she needs in a weird moment and handing Hannah a gift she in no way worked for in the form of a tea set.

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During this exchange, Hannah gawks at Marlowe like she’s admiring a beautiful statue that just sprang to life rather than a human woman who almost died in a freak accident. We know it’s supposed to be Hannah’s harmless Teen Witch moment, but in the context of the entire series the scene highlights a more problematic trend.
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Young women of colour don’t get to avoid standing in this gaze either, as Chuck Palmer’s daughter Miranda in "American Bitch" gets the same treatment. Hannah spends her final moments in the upside-down nightmare of the Palmer apartment literally watching biracial Miranda perform Rihanna’s "Desperado."
Because Girls is a show I’ve stood by through six years of backlash, I would still like to think it’s possible the comedy can make amends in its final four episodes. As a step in the right direction, a preview for episode 7, "The Bounce," shows Hannah will finally contact Paul-Louis to tell him the pregnancy news.
If all goes to plan from there, the mum-to-be will give birth to a biracial baby in a matter of weeks. There’s absolutely nothing more real than that.
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