5 Things We Learned from Lena Dunham at Sundance
Lena Dunham’s honesty may be what we love most about her. The Girls star is never afraid to tackle controversial subjects—sexuality, drugs, body image—even when she’s hanging with one of her personal heroes, television writing legend Norman Lear, 93. The two shared a stage Friday as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s TimesTalk series, moderated by The New York Times’ Logan Hill, and were a match made in TV heaven.
Lear, best known for his groundbreaking 1970s sitcoms All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Maude, was at the festival for the premiere of a documentary about his life, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. His style of writing, with its ability to address sticky subjects head on through laughter, paved the way for young artists like Dunham. And, with their mutual affinity for activism and frank social commentary with a biting sense of humor, Dunham and Lear pretty much inspired us to try to take the world by storm, too. (To do tomorrow: own it, work it.) Aspiring girl bosses, read on. Here are five things we’re taking away from Dunham’s conversation, in her own words.
1. Speak your truth.
“There is just something kind of ineffably magical about telling the truth and when you share something that is real for you, the reactions that you get from people are so unbelievably personal and powerful,” Dunham said when asked about penning stories inspired by her life. At her book signings for Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham "would be crying in the arms of a girl in Canada that I met three minutes ago. We’re both holding each other and crying about our relationships with our mothers and our relationships with our sexuality. That’s a bond I’d never imagined having, as someone who didn’t necessarily have the greatest 7th grade experience, [didn't] feel like they were going to have a life full of magical friends, [and] thought that was going to be a struggle. It’s amazing how liberating it can be to express yourself and to be told, 'Not only is that okay, but I’m here with you.'”
2. Get a good tailor.
Dunham’s documentary Suited, about a Brooklyn tailor making clothing for gender nonconforming clients, premieres on HBO in June. “There’s something very universal about the process of having a custom suit made, and it was also very close to my heart because my sister Grace is a queer woman who has always had a complicated relationship to traditional gender and is actually in the documentary having a custom suit made for the first time,” said Dunham, who also had a suit made during the filmmaking process with Sundance in mind. “I have never really had an issue with clothes. Sure I’d like to be a sample size—that’s not gonna happen, but everything’s fine." When she first put on the custom-made suit, Dunham "was brought to tears," she said. "The feeling of putting on something that fits your body, where you’re not tugging and pulling and readjusting yourself in the mirror, but where you’re just yourself, just flooded me. And so I hope that the documentary is emotional for people and is about more than clothing.”
3. Know when it's time to quit.
Girls recently announced that Season 6 will be its last. Dunham addressed why now is the time for the show to end, and why it may or may not end up like Sex and the City. Girls is about “this really incredibly specific period in these women’s lives and just on a personal level, you know I was 23 when I wrote the pilot; I’m going to be 30 as we shoot the sixth season," Dunham said. “It just felt as though if we were to continue on it wouldn’t be about what it was originally about; it would be taking these characters and almost like it would be the equivalent of moving them to California, only California is them like getting married and having kids and stuff like that and it just feels like, at this point it makes sense for us to wrap their stories up. I’m like, I would love in 10 or 15 years to get us all back together and go to Dubai—nothing would make me happier. I just think right now is the right time.”
4. Know social media has its limits.
While Dunham loves social media as much as the rest of us, she knows it’s just a starting point when debating issues. Twitter is “a place to share opinions, it’s not necessarily a place for expansive conversations. It’s a great place to like, throw a zinger at Trump; it’s not a great place to really work out what we’re going to do about systemic racism. We need to start the dialogue there but then continue the dialogue in a different way,” she said. “But I do think that it’s a really amazing thing to be able to comment in real time on the issues that matter to you. And it’s also a great place to say what you’ve been eating.”
5. Cover up bad hair days and move on.
Dunham wore a white beret-style cap (matching Lear’s hat!) during the event. But it was a last minute addition to her outfit. “I had a terrible hair morning because I went to sleep with my hair wet and this contraption that I usually use to keep it flat failed me, so I had to,” she said. “This was actually my campaigning hat. When I went out to campaign for Hillary [Clinton] I thought, get a campaigning hat, and this was the one that I chose.”
As Lear put it, “You chose well.”