What You Need To Know About The Controversy Between Tessa Thompson And Lena Dunham Over #TimesUp
The 'Thor: Ragnorak' actress has clarified that she wasn't apologising to Lena Dunham.
Over the weekend Thor: Ragnarok star Tessa Thompson shared a photo of herself, along with a number of other celebrities including Rosario Dawson, Laura Dern, Brie Larson and Rashida Jones, celebrating the efforts of the Time’s Up campaign against sexual misconduct.
That one image, along with a comment posted by Thompson, has become the centre of a controversy between her and Girls creator Lena Dunham, who was also featured in the photo, over Dunham’s involvement in the Time’s Up campaign.
Dunham also shared the photo, along with a caption saying she was “humbled to stand alongside these amazing women and say #TIMESUP on systemic oppression, underrepresentation, discrimination, abuse and violence in all industries.”
But several of Thompson’s followers took issue with Dunham’s presence in the photo given she recently came to the defence of Girls writer Murray Miller after he was accused by actress Aurora Perrineau of rape.
In response, Thompson wrote that Dunham “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,” she continued. “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.”
— house of snarks (@houseofsnarks) January 8, 2018
But once Thompson’s comments were picked up by the media, with the story framed along the lines of “Tessa Thompson Takes Down Lena Dunham”, the actress issued a clarification via Twitter, claiming that she had been “misinterpreted” and that her remarks had been used to “create conflict where there isn’t any.”
“I, in no way, want to diminish Lena Dunham and her work, her voice, and her importance,” Thompson wrote. “We have spoken and she knows my heart. I feel a responsibility to women that have sometimes felt ignored, dismissed, and underrepresented.”
“The Time’s Up campaign is for everyone, in all capacities, contributions big and small. It doesn’t belong to any one. It is for us all.”
— Tessa Thompson (@TessaThompson_x) January 9, 2018
While we can’t know what compelled Thompson to issue the apology (some people have suggested her PR reps may have played a part), a number of social media users have come to her defence, maintaining that she was in the right and that her clarification is emblematic of women of colour having to deal with problematic white feminists.
You did the right thing by saying that #LenaDunham had no part in the ramp up to #TimesUp Lena rides on the wave of true feminist and stood by an accuser while silencing a WOC. Don’t apologize because of her basic fans are mad, speak the truth Dunham is bad and does not help.
— Perla (@pxcaballero) January 9, 2018
Tessa Thompson should not have had to apologize for speaking out and speaking the truth. Lena Dunham doesn’t deserve credit for work she didn’t do, and she certainly hasn’t earned anything close to this apology from a Black woman who actually did the work. https://t.co/m3CD5KZT9B
— Sophie Ellman-Golan (@EgSophie) January 9, 2018
I hate that you felt the need to apologize to a white woman who has yet to apologize to the Black rape victim who she called a liar. But I get it, I see you, and we always gonna love you.
— Ima Fire That Fury Heaux (@kelleent) January 9, 2018
While media tendency to pit women against women is tedious I’m sad you felt you needed to say this. Ms Dunham is problematic at best. It’s a time for other voices to be heard & im grateful to you & the other campaigners for your efforts
— Naomi (@khaleesi_101) January 9, 2018
I hate that Tessa Thompson, that black women are forced to apologize for speaking the truth. These same movements that claim to be for all women still centre white women first and foremost. It’s trash.
Also, fuck Lena Dunham.
— ?Shellie∞ (@ShellieLovee) January 9, 2018
Thompson has since tweeted a second clarification, saying that remarks were not meant as an apology so much as they were “an attempt to re-centre the conversation around the work”.
“The truth remains: Many women, particularly women of colour, don’t feel safe and seen,” she added. “To those women, like Aurora Perrineau—I see you. I am with you.”
This was not meant as an apology, as much as an attempt to re-center the conversation around the work. The truth remains:
Many women, particularly women of color, don’t feel safe and seen. To those women, like Aurora Perrineau—I see you. I am with you. This must be clear. pic.twitter.com/XOEZZYfGpB
— Tessa Thompson (@TessaThompson_x) January 9, 2018
Dunham, for her part, told Indiewire that she was “honoured 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 candour.”
Earlier today Thompson tweeted “back to work”, indicating that she doesn’t want the controversy to drag on. But the response from many online, particularly women of colour, suggests that the incident is just one example of a broader problem around how minorities are forced to behave when criticising privileged people in powerful positions.