Does HBO's Girls Discriminate Against Asians, Too?


Much has been made about HBO’s new series Girls, penned by actress and filmmaker Lena Dunham. The show was initially well-received, described as a more realistic Sex and the City, but later slammed for being “too white.”

I watched Girls with an open mind, blissfully ignorant of the articles about its lack of diversity, noticeably with its lack of Black actors. After watching, I also noticed that the show seems to have forgotten about Asian people as well, yet here is why the exclusion of Chinese, Japanese, or Indian characters doesn’t bother me at all.

Girls is a coming of age show focusing mainly on Hannah (played by Dunham), a college grad trying to make a living in New York. From then on, it’s a millennial tick box: college grad working an unpaid internship; relies on her parents as a source of income only to have them pull the money plug within the first minute; girl is confident that she may be the voice of a lost generation caught in recession and wants to write a book about it; plus numerous references to Facebook and how technology defines whether or not your relationship with your boyfriend really matters.

While the show articulates all of the above well, critics have slammed the show for its lack of racial diversity. As Rebecca Carroll said in The Daily Beast: “as relatable as I find Girls, I can’t also help feeling, well, left out. There are no black girls in Girls. I feel somewhat cheated.”

But interestingly, no critics seems to have spared a thought for the only Asian character that was portrayed in the pilot: somone who is bespectacled, knows photoshop (and is therefore presumably more tech savvy), and gets employed from the internship instead of the white girl. Is there a deeper message here? Are the show’s producers trying to say that Asians are more employable and are basically eating up all the jobs in the U.S.? 

I think not, it’s just pure coincidence. I find Girls relateable, but that doesn’t mean I feel left out because the only representation I get is an Asian girl who knows photoshop. While sitcoms like Friends have bent to the public by bringing in black characters who play central roles, how often do you see a TV sitcom where its main (and most memorable) characters are Asian?

Carroll decided to pass time to see how many black people she could see in the pilot and counted three, including a homeless man at the end who says “Oh girl, when I look at you, I just want to say, Hellooooooo, New York!” I decided to play the same game. There are practically no Asians at all and the only other Oriental reference I see is what appears to be the exterior of a Chinese restaurant, a reminder that that is pretty much how Chinese people make their way in the West .

Ta-Nehisi Coates from The Atlantic contended that Girls raises the issue regarding the number of black people who work behind the scenes at HBO. That in mind, I decided to count the number of people in the end credits with Asian last names. I got four, including one technical, one for wardrobe, one in production, and one location scout. What am I supposed to complain about from that? We don’t have enough Asian people working in the creative industry and pitching shows, and HBO needs to do something about it.

At the end of the day, when I watch a sitcom like Girls, or even something like Friends, I don’t see a white person or a black person, I see people. I relate to Girls because it is what it is, a sitcom about trying to find your feet in an overwhelming city. Being Chinese doesn’t make my journey anymore different to anyone else. At the end of the day, Girls is a sitcom about people and not about race.