The star has been accused of not having the credentials to work on the film adaption of a Syrian refugee's story of survival
Lena Dunham, the star and creator of hit US show Girls, is facing a backlash after she announced on Twitter on Monday that she would be writing the script of a film about a Syrian refugee stranded at sea.
Dunham has been commissioned by producers Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams to adapt into a screenplay the book A Hope More Powerful than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss and Survival by Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. So far, neither Spielberg or Abrams have faced any criticism.
In her tweet, Dunham said that she felt "very lucky" to be able to tell the story.
Very lucky to have this job, to tell this story, to support this truth with these people. ❤️ https://t.co/EgcRfKA0ks
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) October 29, 2018
However, Dunham received a surge of messages shortly after making the announcement, accusing her of "whitewashing" and questioning why she was chosen to write the script instead of a writer of Middle Eastern heritage more suited for the position.
Hi hello, please leave Syrian stories alone if you aren't Syrian and especially if you are Lena Dunham. Thank you. https://t.co/FZInaC7qmD
— Suzannenbaum Sainwood 🎄 (@suzannesamin) October 29, 2018
The book set to be adapted tells the harrowing true story of a Syrian refugee, Doaa al-Zamel, who was trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe when her boat was attacked and capsized in 2015.
Zamel survived in open water for four days, holding two babies with only the support of an inflatable buoy that was passed to her by her fiance Bassem, who later drowned in front of her.
Surely there are storytellers who have actually been refugees, or at least had some experience with what it means to be marginalized, who could write this screenplay adaptation with authenticity &, um, not white privilege. Hard to think of a worse choice for this than Dunham. https://t.co/NHRyt4k86G
— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) October 29, 2018
Many expressed their thoughts on social media, stating that Dunham was not a good choice and would compromise the authenticity of the production - pointing out that Dunham has done little to ensure in-depth representation of non-white characters in her past work, and therefore should not have been chosen for the job.
Lena I’m happy that this story is being told, but please either bring an arab co-writer with you or have a Syrian direct and co write with you. There are so many leading Syrian filmmakers that are highly qualified. I can help you reach to them, please don’t make this mistake.
— samshaib (@samshaib) October 29, 2018
The author of the book, Melissa Fleming, defended the choice of Dunham to write the screenplay. Neither Spielberg nor Abrams have yet responded to the criticisms.
The book is a true story entrusted to me by Doaa. If I hadn't written it, I am afraid it would have not been told, her voice a one-day news story. I have been given every assurance this screen adaption and movie will remain true.
— Melissa Fleming (@melissarfleming) October 29, 2018
The little information made public about the movie thus far has made no mention of whether any Syrians - including Doaa herself - were directly involved in the project.
Don't do this. Seriously. Graciously step away saying you reconsidered your privilege and realised this role and this story is not for you.
— Sarah Fox (@SarahtheFox_) October 30, 2018
Dunham has previously been criticised for the lack of diversity and characters of colour in her work, and been accused of racism, nepotism and unexamined privilege. She has been forced to apologise on several occasions for jokes she has made.
Girls, the TV series created by and starring Dunham that propelled her to fame, was repeatedly criticised for its "prevailing whiteness".
why on earth didn't they hire an immigrant/Arab/Muslim/Egyptian to write this? This is going to be a liberal spectacle of the Arab female body with no critical engagement with politics.
— randa tawil (@randa_tawil) October 29, 2018
Speaking to Nylon in 2017, Dunham said she "wouldn't do another show that starred four white girls".
"When I wrote the pilot I was 23...I was not trying to write the experience of somebody I didn't know, and not trying to stick a black girl in without understanding the nuance of what her experience of hipster Brooklyn was," she said in the interview.
Some social media users went on to joke that Dunham should pair with another Hollywood star known for her own controversies - including playing an Asian character and being cast to play a transgender man - despite being a cisgender white woman.
and scarlet johansson will play the parts of all the refugeeshttps://t.co/rQokuGlG5g
— Civili-titty (@SubMedina) October 30, 2018