Clinton and Dunham hit the Weinstein wall

Writer-director Lena Dunham.
Writer-director Lena Dunham.

NEW YORK • From the start, writer-director Lena Dunham and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton were something of an odd match. The millennial daughter of New York privilege known for her audacious public presence and frequent nudity on her HBO show, Girls. And the baby boomer raised with a steely Midwestern reserve, a devotion to her Methodist faith and a fierce affinity for a "zone of privacy".

But early on in an election unlike any other, Dunham and Clinton became a kind of package deal, with the campaign scrambling to reach young women and dispatching Dunham as one of its most visible ambassadors.

Now, the generational tensions that hummed beneath the alliance have exploded into public view.

The rift came as a result of comments made by Dunham for an article published in The New York Times last Tuesday about film mogul Harvey Weinstein and how he used a network of lawyers, publicists and journalists to protect his reputation.

In the article, Dunham said she had warned two Clinton campaign officials against associating with Weinstein. "I just want you to know that Harvey's a rapist and this is going to come out at some point," Dunham said she told the campaign. In reply to her comments, Mr Nick Merrill, communications director for Clinton, said: "As to claims about a warning, that's something staff wouldn't forget."

Dunham's statement to The Times came not long after she had stirred controversy by publicly defending a Girls writer, Murray Miller, who had been accused of sexual assault. A torrent of criticism followed Dunham's words of support for Miller, whose lawyers denied the allegation. Three days after her defence of her colleague, Dunham posted an apology on Twitter. "Under patriarchy, 'I believe you' is essential," it read.

In Dunham, Clinton's aides believed they had found a celebrity feminist spokesman who could connect to younger women who were Feeling the Bern (Senator Bernie Sanders). The Girls creator made stops in New Hampshire and Iowa, where she spoke to young women often wearing custom-made dresses emblazoned with "Hillary". She also hosted fund-raisers. She was among the boldface names, including Billy Crystal and Julia Roberts, who attended a Broadway gala that Weinstein helped produce.

For years, Weinstein had been a loyal friend and donor to former first couple Bill and Hillary Clinton. In 2014, the Clintons rented a seven-bedroom bluff-side estate in Amagansett, New York, next door to Weinstein's Hamptons home. After the November election last year, the Clintons dined with Weinstein and discussed a possible documentary project. The talks fell apart soon after the first allegations against him were published in The Times on Oct 5.

The #MeToo movement has since gained prominence amid a national reckoning about sexual harassment and assault. But some women say not everyone's voice is being heard.

"I think the floodgates have opened for white women," actress Gabrielle Union told The New York Times in an interview published last Tuesday. Union, who is black, was raped at gunpoint at 19 and talks openly about the assault in her book, We're Going To Need More Wine, which was released in October.

She said: "I don't think it's a coincidence whose pain has been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now."

Last Thursday, Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of film-maker Woody Allen who has alleged that he sexually abused her as a child, questioned, in an article published in the Los Angeles Times, why he had escaped the consequences of the widespread backlash that was set off by the fall of Weinstein. "The revolution has been selective," she wrote.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2017, with the headline 'Clinton and Dunham hit the Weinstein wall'. Print Edition | Subscribe