A project based on a story of a Syrian refugee who saved two children from drowning when their boat was capsized has been greenlit, as reported by Variety. Based A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival, by Melissa Fleming, the chief spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the project will be coproduced by Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams.
All of this seems like a generally good idea, until you find out that Spielberg and Abrams, two very experienced members of the film industry, have tapped Lena Dunham to write the screenplay.
Cue the record scratch and the boiling rage, because why would you do that?
Dunham, most famous for Girls, is not such a great writer, first of all. I’ve seen enough of her show to say that. When your writing is so bad that not even Riz Ahmed can save it, there’s a problem, but that’s not the big issue here. The big issue is that she was handpicked to write an important screenplay about a woman of color, despite her poor track record of representation.
Girls had terrible representation across the board for the series’ entire run. All of Dunham’s work has showcased a distinct lack of interest in any voices that don’t sound like hers or stories about people who don’t look like her. Stunt casting Donald Glover and Riz Ahmed in episodes of the series does not quality representation make. For a more in-depth look at Dunham’s issues, The Mary Sue has covered many of them; a brief walk through her tag on the site will bring up countless articles about her terrible behavior and her white feminism.
I’m shocked that Spielberg and Abrams would select her to write the film. While both men have their problems, they are also both experienced producers. Dunham will draw a lot of negative attention to the project. They had to be aware of her shortcomings and her inability to write and see beyond her own experience, and yet, they still selected her for the film.
It doesn’t make sense. A woman should probably tackle this project as a writer (and as a director, let’s be honest), but a woman of color should be writing the screenplay—or, at the very least, a woman who’s shown to be decently empathetic and compassionate. Dunham’s obsession with writing about white women behaving poorly will not translate well to this story.
The woman at the center of this story, Doaa Al Zamel, deserves to have her story told with empathy, nuance, and not to have her trauma poorly packaged as tearjerker Oscar bait. Abrams and Spielberg have a responsibility to tell her story well, and they’re off to a pretty bad start. I’m waiting for some kind of explanation from them as to why they selected Dunham, but it will most likely do little to assuage my dislike of this decision.
I hope that, somehow, this project is salvageable, because Al Zamel deserves this, but Abrams and Spielberg should know better, and this decision is deeply disheartening.
(via Variety; Image: HBO)
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