Writer, actress, director, producer, and hipster messiah Lena Dunham dropped by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Wednesday with her mother, artist Laurie Simmons, to present “Mother and Daughter: The Voices of Two Generations.” A screening of Tiny Furniture, Lena’s acclaimed (and criticized) 2010 film was followed by a Q&A session with the duo. Tickets, which went on sale last summer, were sold out, and fans of the show packed the auditorium with Belieber-like enthusiasm, many bearing gifts for Dunham. Dunham, who hadn’t seen Furniture in over a year, didn’t miss a beat as well-meaning inquisitors grilled her and Simmons on racist accusations, entitlement, feminism, and having famous parents.
On Tiny Furniture being added to the Criterion Film Collection:
“If you’re still alive and not French, it’s really hard to convince them to put you in the Criterion Collection.”
On cinematography and soundtracks:
“Season One was a call to arms about the value of cinematography. Directors have a duty with how they wield the camera, and I do try to take that responsibility seriously.”
On writing herself into her characters:
“I always start out thinking that I’m writing these characters that are incredibly close to me and the people around me and they are really not. It depends on the day. Sometimes I feel so close to Hannah because we share so many experiences. Aura is so far behind me. It’s funny for me to watch that movie – the last time I watched was a year ago. I have real sympathy towards her and I kind of want to wrap her up in my arms. I know it’s silly because she’s 23 and I’m 26, but a lot happens in that time, you’re growing really fast, like how babies double their weight in the first month of their life or something like that. I guarantee to all the 23 year olds here today, that by the time you’re 26 you will be horrified by your behavior.
With Hannah it’s this funny thing of having this experiential twin who is spiritually really different. And I used to say ‘Oh she’s 2 years behind me’, but in some ways she’s ahead of me. She’s got a more guileless, joyful approach to the world, she’s positive. She’s got this Unsinkable Molly Brown quality that I don’t have. It’s a constant shifting thing, but it’s a really nice thing to have a repository for your experiences in someone else with…slightly different hair.”
On like, everyone in Girls having famous parents:
“HBO never put any pressure on us to cast anyone who was known or to cast anyone whose parents are well known. The fact is, nobody goes to see a movie of someone whose parents are well-known, they go to see it because they connect with the people who are in it. If there’s any reason beyond pure coincidence that all these girls have parents who are in the field, it may be because they came into the auditions with more comfort having been around people who do this, rather than a sort of ‘actorly desperation’ and maybe that is a form of privilege. But it definitely isn’t me trying to form this Svengali Girl Group for people with well-known parents.
Simmons chimed in, adding “There was all this talk about nepotism when Girls came out. There was an article on the internet about who each actress was, and Lena was ‘Laurie Simmons’ daughter’. Well, my Wikipedia page got so many hits after that because so many people said ‘Uh…who’s Laurie Simmons?’ A lot of time people are confusing cultural access with fame and success. Usually having two parents who are visual artists doesn’t get you very much. The reality is: I can’t get anyone a show on HBO!”
On being the boss:
“It’s interesting for me because I’m 26 now, and I’m an employer, which is not a position that I ever thought I’d be allowed to be in. But I have 21, 22, and 23 year olds working for me, and sometimes I have this horrible old lady attitude where I think like “Doesn’t anybody understand that hard work is how you get places these days?” But, I was an abominable employee, worse than Aura in Tiny Furniture. At least she had good reasons for quitting her job.”
On living up to your parents:
“My mom’s work is very composed, slightly surreal meditation on what it feels like to be a female now and forever. My father’s work is very boisterous, no-holds barred, and even though I don’t think of it as sexual, it is highly charged in depicting things with a sort of ‘you can’t do that on canvas’ approach. Even though I work in a different medium than both my parents, it is comprised of talking about women’s issues, I’m filming it in what I hope is a sort of measured and beautiful way, and also filming sex in a way that hasn’t been seen on television before, so really both of their theses are present in what I do.”
Adds Simmons: “There are things that, generationally, I just don’t have a direct access to, so it’s really important that other generations have their own voice. One of the messages we gave our children is: ‘Don’t make work to please your parents. If that’s what you’re doing, you’re not going to be in a good place.’”
On Feminism and Post-Feminism:
“I don’t really believe in the concept of post-feminism, because I don’t think feminism is done and I don’t think the job is done. I just read an article about rape in the military in Rolling Stone, and it reminded me that this job is not even started, and with each era it takes on a new meaning and it’s equally important for women to be vocal in demanding rights. When a woman says she is not a feminist, it’s so deeply alien to me, because, do you believe you should be paid the same amount as men for doing the same job? Do you want to be able to work and raise children? Do you believe in your right to chose? The idea of not being feminist seems like disowning your sexuality, disowning your control over your own body and it actually dismays me. I love pop stars and pop music, but I hate when pop stars say ‘I’m not a feminist, I’m just into people.’ It’s just the most annoying thing in the world.”
“The theme of entitlement comes up a lot, especially when I talk to adults. The question ‘is this sense that you are owed something by the world a generation problem?’ always comes up. My dad said to me recently, ‘This is probably the first time in American history where people can expect for their children to grow up and have fewer opportunities than they did’ and that’s a shocking reality for a country that is so obsessed with the idea of bright futures for all.
It’s a really specific mindset to leave liberal arts college and be told over and over that the world needs you, and that it in fact does not. There’s a sense that you were promised something that you are not being given.”