Lena Dunham was recently announced as the screenwriter for the film adaptation of the 2017 book, “A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea,” which follows the story of Doaa Al-Zamel, a Syrian refugee, as she tries to cross the Mediterranean by boat. This announcement was not well-received. Many have pointed out that this story would be a perfect avenue to introduce the voice of a Syrian or another writer with a refugee background. Others questioned Dunham’s involvement in the project because the story is not hers to tell.
I am not suggesting that Dunham was the perfect choice for this adaptation project. There are writers whose experiences more closely match the experiences detailed in this story who could also write great scripts for this story. But I do think it’s a bit unfair to suggest that Dunham — who is a talented writer — couldn’t possibly write a good adaptation as well, especially after she was condemned for not writing stories that are of significance in our world.
Dunham is best known for the HBO series “Girls” (2012–17), which she wrote, directed and starred in. “Girls” followed four privileged young women as they awkwardly stumble through millennial life in New York. Although the show received consistent critical praise and had six very successful seasons, it also faced backlash, with many referring to the plots of the episodes as trivial.
Such criticism is valid and fair. By and large, the show does not attempt to tackle the world’s larger issues, instead choosing to draw out the humor in the everyday situations faced by Dunham (not unlike the format of shows like “Seinfeld” (1989–98), which interestingly didn’t face the same kind of criticism). However, I think this kind of criticism puts Dunham and her career as a writer in a very difficult place.
If Dunham cannot write about her experiences as they are not deemed different or important enough and cannot write about different experiences as they are not hers, what can Dunham write?
Would this have been a great opportunity for a Syrian writer to have been given this opportunity to have their voice heard? Absolutely.
Is Lena Dunham taking strides to use her talent to try and tell more of the stories audiences have been asking her to tell? Absolutely.
Dunham, by any metric, is a supremely talented writer. We have asked Dunham to step out of her bubble with her stories. Now it’s time for us to allow her to do that.
Seeing stories radically different from our own makes us more open-minded and tolerant. I believe that the more diverse stories we consume, the better off we are. I look forward to seeing Dunham — and what will hopefully be a diverse creative team — bring this important story to life.