Tessa Thompson has been at the forefront of the Time’s Up movement since it was announced on January 1st. She stood alongside other actresses to share the initiative’s message. She encouraged her followers to donate. She gave clear and intelligent interviews defending their decision to wear black, answering the critics who asked why not just boycott the Globes altogether? Tessa has been there and she’s putting in the work. So, when she posted a group photo of the many women who also worked to make Time’s Up a reality and it included Lena Dunham (problematic as f-ck, last seen calling a victim a liar, habitual line stepper – yes that Lena Dunham) people had questions.
If you follow Tessa Thompson on social media, you know that she’s always honest, thoughtful and fearless. When Duana sent us Tessa’s response to the questions about Lena’s presence in said photo, she called her “f-cking shameless.” In the best way. This was Tessa’s comment about Lena Dunham:
“Lena was not anywhere present in our group during the countless hours of work for the last two months. We hosted an open house for the actresses for red carpet messaging and Lena’s presence was a surprise to us all. This is a time of reckoning. And for many, a re-education. So many women also have real work to do. I’m afraid it’s too nuanced a conversation to have on this platform. But I hear you, and know that your thoughts and words are not lost on me. It’s been discussed.”
F-ck, I love Tessa Thompson so much. “Her presence was a surprise to us all.” So, Lena Dunham is that person who shows up for the presentation at the end of a group project to get the credit without putting in the work. This photo was taken at a gathering of women working to make sure their message was delivered in the most effective way possible during red carpet interviews. Lena Dunham didn’t walk the red carpet at the Globes. She wasn’t part of the months leading up to the strategic protest we saw on Sunday night. How hard would it have been for Lena to sit out this photo? In Lena’s response, which I’ll get to, she says she was invited by a friend to “observe the work that these amazing women have been doing the past few months.” You were there to observe but you couldn’t resist the photo-op? Especially after defending an accused rapist and treating his victim Aurora Perrineau with appalling contempt, you would think Lena Dunham would at least have the sense to take step back and let these women have their moment. But this is Lena Dunham we’re talking about and her inability to understand when her voice and presence is unneeded, unnecessary and unimportant is part of why she’s fumbled so hard so many times. OF COURSE she had to show up, smile in the photo and post it on Instagram.
Note the caption: “Humbled to stand alongside these amazing women.” Alongside.
Without Tessa’s clarification, it makes it seem like Lena was there with the Time’s Up team from the beginning, doesn’t it? This is the definition of performative white feminism. Tessa responded to comments calling out Lena Dunham for “co-opting” a movement led by women of colour (Tarana Burke, Ai-Jen Poo, America Ferrara, Eva Longoria, Kerry Washington, Tracee Ellis Ross, just to name a few) and claiming it as her own. White actresses are involved in Time’s Up too but the point of the movement is to speak up for the oppressed, underrepresented and disenfranchised. The loudest voices of this movement have not been white women. To their credit, many of the straight white women of this movement have relinquished their platforms for women of colour (see Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams). When will Lena Dunham learn to do the same?
Of course, because everything sucks, Tessa faced backlash for her comment. Lena Dunham responded with a statement to IndieWire.
“I was honored to be invited to the meeting by a close friend and to observe the work that these amazing women have been doing the past few months. For highly personal reasons, I’ve been unable to join previous efforts but being asked to be a part of this celebratory moment was truly beautiful. I’ve worked with Tessa and respect her artistry and admire her consistent candor.”
I’ll get more into Lena’s “personal reasons” in my next post but now we all know that one of those reasons might be that she and Jack Antonoff broke up. This statement puts Tessa in an uncomfortable position. Now, it seems like she came for poor heartbroken Lena. A breakup is a serious thing. I don’t want to sound insensitive but using this card in Lena’s response feels manipulative to me and I think it forced Tessa Thompson to walk back on words she absolutely had the right to say. Here’s her clarification:
Many people don’t think Tessa should not have had to publicly apologize to Lena Dunham. One of my favourite writers to follow on Twitter, Jamie Broadnax, put it like this:
If #TimesUp is about protecting women like Lena Dunham then I have questions. There was absolutely nothing wrong with what Tessa did or said and whoever told her to craft out an apology is DEAD WRONG.— Jamie “Is February 16 2018 Here Yet?” Broadnax (@JamieBroadnax) January 9, 2018
I don’t disagree with this but “I regret that my words were misinterpreted” is not exactly an apology. Tessa Thompson probably saw that the conversation had become about her and Lena Dunham instead of the legal defense fund created to protect victims of sexual assault and she wanted to take back the narrative. I don’t see this as an endorsement of Lena Dunham but as an attempt to make sure Time’s Up’s message isn’t overshadowed by stories lacking nuance pitting two actresses against each other. Plus, Tessa says she spoke to Lena. Do you think there were tears? Do you think that’s why Tessa Thompson felt the need to soften her wording?
“I feel a responsibility to women that have sometimes felt ignored, dismissed, and underrepresented.”
To me, that reads like a pointed message to Lena, like Tessa felt the need to stand up for these women more than she felt obligated to let Lena Dunham get an A without deserving it.
Tessa Thompson has since deleted the OG photo and replaced it with the below group shot, without Lena Dunham.