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SXSW: Lena Dunham on Hollywood Sexism, Ratings and the Tweet She Regrets

AUSTIN — “Something has to change and I’m trying” — that’s the message “Girls” creator Lena Dunham delivered with her keynote at SXSW on Monday, addressing the differences in opportunities for male and female actors in Hollywood as well as her distaste for Republicans.

Adam Driver, a co-star of her HBO series, has been offered parts playing “villains, Lotharios and nerds all in one year,” she said of Hollywood’s gender imbalance, whereas “Girls” stars Zosia Mamet and Allison Williams have yet to see parts that offer them a chance “to stretch their legs,” Dunham said.

Dunham added that she does not care for ratings (though she admits HBO wishes she did), Deadline Hollywood and Republicans (“I’m sure there are some good ones. I just haven’t met them yet”).

Her 45-minute keynote largely ran though her life, growing up in New York with two artist parents (a painter and photographer) and her beg-borrow-and-steal mentality to filmmaking (she maxed out a credit card, donated her $5,000 worth of babysitting funds, borrowed money from her parents and her best friend’s parents to make her early DIY movies). The hyphenate constantly emphasized the importance of having a “ferocious work ethic” and to be perpetually working on something – a script, screenplay, short – anything. Creators should be creating, she said.

She traced her SXSW experiences, from having “Creative Nonfiction” rejected one year at the festival and then accepted the next, to feeling like her entree into the industry really began when she won an award in Austin for 2010’s “Tiny Furniture.”

The 27-year-old also made sure several times to apologize for the “molestation tweet” that she sent and promptly deleted. Her account tweeted, “I just made and deleted a not so great molestation joke. Sorry guys. I am really sleepy. SNL has a way bigger audience than our usual cozy girls audience, so I was seeing a rash of very different kinds of twitter rage.” In back-to-back tweets she added, “But I should know better, and do. Even naked girls get embarrassed. Sleep well and thanks for an amazing weekend.”

Dunham also joked about the tweet, which the audience immediately forgave her for, a palpable “ooohhh” echoing through the auditorium.

The two-time Golden Globe winner also spoke about budgets, or the lack thereof, saying, “Lack of budget is no longer an excuse. (I realized) holding up a camera and letting people wander around documentary style is no longer acceptable.”

Dunham said she knows “there isn’t a place right now for me in studio-funded movies.” By holding down four jobs on “Girls,” she said she’s trying to change the role of women in Hollywood. To bolster her point she cited Cate Blanchett’s Oscar acceptance speech and a quote from dance legend Martha Graham.

She fielded questions for 20 minutes, ranging from her favorite “Girls” episode (the one that aired this past weekend because of the host of women, including June Squibb, with whom she worked) to a guy who admitted that he and his fraternity brothers watch her show every weekend looking for advice.

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