Lena Dunham (/ˈliːnə ˈdʌnəm/; born May 13, 1986) is an American actress, writer, director, and producer. She is known as the creator, writer, and star of the HBO television series Girls (2012–2017), for which she received several Emmy Award nominations and two Golden Globe Awards. Dunham also directed several episodes of Girls and became the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Comedy Series. Prior to Girls, Dunham wrote, directed, and starred in the semi-autobiographical independent film Tiny Furniture (2010), for which she won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.
In her book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned", Dunham wrote about being sexually assaulted by an Oberlin College classmate, which resulted in controversy regarding the accuracy of her account and a case of mistaken identity when a former Oberlin College student named Barry (the pseudonym used for Dunham's alleged attacker in her book) sought legal advice to ensure people didn't associate him with the content. In the book, Dunham describes "Barry" as a guy who wore cowboy boots, sported a mustache, hosted a radio show, worked at a campus library, and graduated Oberlin in 2005. According to the man's attorney, Aaron Minc, that description warrants enough detail to point a finger at his client. Dunham later apologized for the confusion and Random House reprinted the book with a clarification, releasing a statement saying: "Random House, on our own behalf and on behalf of our author, regrets the confusion."
While a student at Oberlin College, Dunham produced several independent short films and uploaded them to YouTube. Many of her early films dealt with themes of sexual enlightenment and were produced in a mumblecore filmmaking style, a dialog-heavy style in which young people talk about their personal relationships. In 2006, she produced Pressure, in which a girl and two friends talk about experiencing an orgasm for the first time, which makes Dunham's character feel pressured to do so as well. "I didn't go to film school", Dunham explains. "Instead I went to liberal arts school and self-imposed a curriculum of creating tiny flawed video sketches, brief meditations on comic conundrums, and slapping them on the Internet."
In 2007, Dunham starred in a ten-episode web series for Nerve.com entitled Tight Shots, described by The New York Times Magazine's Virginia Heffernan as "a daffy serial about kids trying to make a movie and be artsy and have tons of sex."
Dunham first attended Friends Seminary before transferring in seventh grade to Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn, where she met Tiny Furniture actress and future Girls co-star Jemima Kirke. As a teen, Dunham also won a Scholastic Art and Writing Award. She attended The New School for a year before transferring to Oberlin College, where she graduated in 2008 with a degree in creative writing.
Also in 2009, Dunham premiered Creative Nonfiction—a comedy where she plays Ella, a college student struggling to complete a screenplay —at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. She was initially rejected by the festival the year before; she re-edited and successfully resubmitted the film.
In 2009, Dunham created the Index Magazine web series, Delusional Downtown Divas, which satirized the New York City art scene. The production was unpaid, so Dunham and her friends "pooled their money from babysitting and art-assistant gigs and borrowed some camera gear."
In 2012, Dunham began dating Jack Antonoff, the lead guitarist of the band fun. and the founder of Bleachers. Dunham and Antonoff remained together until December 2017; they subsequently separated announcing that the separation was "amicable".
In November 2017, Dunham briefly defended Girls writer Murray Miller, whom actress Aurora Perrineau had accused of sexually assaulting her in 2012 when she was seventeen. Dunham responded to the accusations by saying, "While our first instinct is to listen to every woman's story, our insider knowledge of Murray's situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3% of assault cases that are misreported every year." After an immediate backlash, Dunham apologized for that statement, saying that it was "absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement" and that "every woman who comes forward deserves to be heard, fully and completely, and our relationship to the accused should not be part of the calculation anyone makes when examining her case." Dunham was described as a "hipster racist" for her defense of Miller, as Perrineau is of mixed race. In December 2018, Dunham admitted to lying to defend Miller, saying that she had no "insider information".
Girls was renewed for a second season in April 2012, before the first season had finished airing. The finale episode of the first season drew over one million viewers.
The first season premiered on HBO on April 15, 2012, and received critical acclaim. The New York Times applauded the series, writing that "Girls may be the millennial generation's rebuttal to Sex and the City, but the first season was at times as cruelly insightful and bleakly funny as Louie on FX or Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO." James Poniewozik from Time reserved high praise for the series, calling it "raw, audacious, nuanced and richly, often excruciatingly funny".
In 2013, Dunham was included in the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. In 2014, Dunham released her first book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned". In 2015, along with Girls showrunner Jenni Konner, Dunham created the publication Lenny Letter, a feminist online newsletter. The publication folded in late 2018.
The second season of Girls continued to receive critical acclaim. David Wiegland of the San Francisco Chronicle said that "The entire constellation of impetuous, ambitious, determined and insecure young urbanites in Girls is realigning in the new season, but at no point in the four episodes sent to critics for review do you feel that any of it is artificial". Verne Gay of Newsday said it is "Sharper, smarter, more richly layered, detailed and acted". Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly felt that "As bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as it was in its first season, Girls may now be even spunkier, funnier, and riskier". The second season ran on HBO from January 2013 to March 2013, with third and fourth seasons subsequently being renewed. The third season of Girls premiered in January 2014 with over one million viewers. The following month, Dunham hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live with musical guest The National.
The first season garnered Dunham four Emmy Award nominations for her roles in acting, writing, and directing the series, as well as two Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy. In February 2013, Dunham became the first woman to win a Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Comedy Series for her work on Girls.
In 2014, Dunham was named the Recipient of Horizon Award 2014 by Point Foundation for her support of the gay community.
In late 2012, Dunham signed a $3.5 million deal with Random House to publish her first book. The book, an essay collection called Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned", was published in September 2014. It reached number two on The New York Times Best Seller list in October 2014.
In 2015, Dunham, with Jenni Konner, co-founded Lenny Letter, a feminist online newsletter. Lenny Letter was initially supported by Hearst Corporation advertising, and subsequently by Condé Nast. In addition to the regular newsletter, Lenny Letter published a Fiction Issue and a Poetry Issue during fall 2015.
On January 5, 2015, days before the premiere of the fourth season, Girls was renewed for a fifth season, despite dwindling viewership. That year, Dunham launched A Casual Romance Productions, a production company to develop television and film projects. The company produced It's Me Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise. On February 20, 2015, it was reported that Dunham had been cast in a guest role in an episode of the ABC drama series Scandal, which aired March 19, 2015.
In September 2015, Dunham stated that the sixth season of Girls was likely to be the last season. This was later confirmed by HBO.
In 2016, Dunham appeared in her mother's film, My Art, which had its world premiere at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival. She also voiced Mary in My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, a 2016 American animated teen comedy drama film directed by Dash Shaw. It was selected to be screened in the Vanguard section at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Dunham also filmed scenes for the film Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, but they were cut from the final film.
In April 2016, she wrote in support of Hillary Clinton, pledging to move to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, if Donald Trump won the election. After Trump's win, Dunham wrote she will not be moving to Canada, saying, "I can survive staying in this country, MY country, to fight and love and use my embarrassment of blessings to do what's right."
In September 2016, Dunham criticized NFL player Odell Beckham Jr. for his interactions with her at the Met Gala. Dunham said, "I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards. He was like, 'That's a marshmallow. That's a child. That's a dog.' It wasn't mean — he just seemed confused. The vibe was very much like, 'Do I want to f--- it? Is it wearing a ... yep, it's wearing a tuxedo. I'm going to go back to my cell phone." She added, "It was like we were forced to be together, and he literally was scrolling Instagram rather than have to look at a woman in a bow tie. I was like, 'This should be called the Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected by Athletes'." Dunham was criticized for her comments, which some considered to be an example of white entitlement. She later apologized for her characterization of his interactions and thoughts.
In December 2016, Dunham declared on a podcast that she wished she'd had an abortion, explaining that she wanted to better understand women who have. The comment was widely condemned as insensitive. Dunham later issued a lengthy apology on her Instagram.
Dunham briefly appeared in films such as Supporting Characters and This Is 40 (both 2012) and Happy Christmas (2014). She voiced Mary in the 2016 film My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. On television, aside from Girls, she has played guest roles in Scandal and The Simpsons (both 2015). In 2017, she portrayed Valerie Solanas in American Horror Story: Cult.
In 2017, she portrayed Valerie Solanas, the real-life radical feminist and SCUM Manifesto author who attempted to murder Andy Warhol in the late 1960s, in American Horror Story: Cult.
In October 2018, Dunham and Konner announced that Lenny Letter would be shutting down, reportedly due to a decline in subscribers and failure to build momentum upon other platforms. At its height in 2017, Lenny Letter had over 500,000 subscribers.
Dunham has appeared on several magazine covers, including Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, and Rolling Stone. After Dunham posed with bare legs for Glamour's February 2017 cover, she praised the magazine for featuring an unedited photo and leaving the cellulite on her thighs visible.
Girls' sixth and final season concluded on April 16, 2017, leaving a total of 62 episodes in the series.
In June 2017, Dunham endorsed Jim Johnson, a Democratic New Jersey gubernatorial candidate. Later that month, Dunham endorsed Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, in the United Kingdom general election.
In November 2017, following Dunham and Konner's controversial letter denouncing Aurora Perrineau's accusation of sexual assault by Murray Miller, Zinzi Clemmons announced that she would no longer contribute to the newsletter, saying Dunham's racism was "well-known" and called for all women of color to "divest" from Dunham.
In February 2018, A Casual Romance Productions announced that it would be producing Camping, a remake of the British comedy series of the same name for HBO, with Jennifer Garner in the lead and Dunham and Konner as showrunners and writers. On July 25, 2018, the series held a panel at the Television Critics Association's annual summer press tour featuring executive producer Jenni Konner and cast member Jennifer Garner. The following day, a teaser trailer for the series was released.
In February 2018, Dunham wrote an essay for Vogue about her decision to have a hysterectomy due to endometriosis.
In August 2018, it was announced Dunham would appear in the film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, directed by Quentin Tarantino, which released on July 26, 2019. Dunham portrayed the role of Catherine "Gypsy" Share. In October 2018, coinciding with the expiration of their joint HBO contract, Dunham and Konner split as producing partners, dissolved their production company. In August 2019, Dunham launched a new production company Good Thing Going which has a first look deal with HBO.
In October 2018, Dunham was hired to write the screenplay for an untitled film based upon the memoir A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival, by Melissa Fleming, which follows the true story of Doaa Al Zamel, who fled Egypt for Europe and became one of few survivors of a shipwrecked refugee boat, surviving days in open water and supporting herself and two orphaned children with only an inflatable water ring. Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams are set to produce the film. Dunham's hiring received backlash stating instead of Dunham, a Syrian woman should have been hired. Daniel Medina, a journalist wrote: "Lena Dunham constantly talks about representation as crucial to enrich storytelling. Yet, in practice, she has shown a disregard for actually elevating those voices. Now, she’s been signed on to write a Syrian refugee’s story?". Author Alia Malek stated: "The idea that Lena Dunham is better situated to tell the story of a Syrian than somebody else implicit in that is a kind of hierarchy."
In 2019, Dunham revealed that she suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
In response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, in March 2020 Dunham announced she would write a serialized novel, Verified Strangers as a response to social isolation. She added that the act was a response to help herself and the readers in the time of anxiety. The serialization started later that month on the Vogue website. Dunham will direct the first episode of HBO's Industry and serve as an executive producer. She will also serve as an executive producer on Generation, a dramedy for HBO Max. She will also direct, write, and produce Catherine, Called Birdy, an adaption of the children's novel of the same name by Karen Cushman for Working Title Films.
Dunham was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder as a child, and continued to take a low dose of an anxiolytic (Klonopin) to relieve her anxiety until 2018. In April 2020, she celebrated two years of sobriety without any medical assistance.
In July 2020, Dunham reported on Instagram her experience with COVID-19 because she observed people were not taking social distancing seriously. Though she was not hospitalized, she did have "severe symptoms for three weeks".
Dunham's television series, Girls, was greenlit by HBO in early 2011. Three episodes were screened to positive response at the 2012 South by Southwest Festival.