Lena Dunham Biography

Filmmaker, Writer, Actress (1986–)
Golden Globe winner Lena Dunham is best known for writing, directing, producing and acting in 'Girls,' the original series she created for HBO.

Who Is Lena Dunham?

Lena Dunham was born in New York City on May 13, 1986. At 25, Dunham made a huge splash in the entertainment business for her HBO series Girls, which premiered in 2012. The edgy show follows a bunch of 20-something women living in New York City, its characters and storylines often inspired by events from the creator's life. Dunham, named "Coolest Person of the Year" by TIME magazine in 2012, fulfilled several roles for Girls—actress, director, producer and writer. Over the course of its six seasons, Girls won numerous awards, with Dunham personally taking home two Golden Globes for her contributions.

Early Days

Lena Dunham was born in New York City on May 13, 1986, to father Caroll Dunham, a painter, and mother Laurie Simmons, a photographer. She grew up in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan and attended the prestigious Saint Anne's School in Brooklyn, where she met future Girls co-star Jemima Kirke. After graduating from high school, Dunham studied creative writing at Oberlin College. Her initial plan was to be a poet, but she soon turned to writing plays and short films. In fact, Dunham completed three shorts while in college.

Dunham's Big Break: 'Tiny Furniture'

After graduating from Oberlin, Dunham produced her own web series, Delusion Downtown Divas, about three young women raised in the art world. The up-and-comer's next project, however, would be her big break: In 2010, at age 23, Dunham produced the short Tiny Furniture, a semi-autobiographical story about a college grad who gets ditched by her significant other, and, subsequently, moves back home with her mom and sister. Dunham spent only $45,000 on the film, which she shot in her family's apartment in just 18 days. The work wound up winning the South by Southwest Film Festival's best narrative feature award.


Tiny Furniture's success led Dunham to writer and filmmaker Judd Apatow, producer of blockbusters such as Bridesmaids and Knocked Up. Apatow signed on to executive produce Dunham's debut original series, Girls. First airing on HBO in April 2012, the show follows the constant dramatic disasters and rare triumphs of a group of 20-something women living in New York City. In addition to creating, writing and directing episodes for Girls, Dunham starred in the series as Hannah Horvath, an aspiring writer who pays the bills as a barista. (Dunham had never taken acting lessons, though prior to Girls she had bit parts in the 2011 HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce and the indie horror movie The Innkeepers.)

Girls became known for its dark comedy antics, frequent nude scenes and risqué subject matter. Despite often being a target of critics, the show garnered acclaim for pushing the envelope in its portrayal of young, sexually focused women, and earned Dunham several Emmy nominations and two 2013 Golden Globe Awards. The star scored media buzz following her Golden Globe acceptance speech in January 2013; during her narrative, she thanked actor Chad Lowe, poking fun at Lowe's ex, Hilary Swank, for forgetting to mention her then-husband in her 2000 Oscar-winning speech.

Dunham continued to earn praise for her work on Girls, receiving an Emmy Award nomination in 2014 for her portrayal of Hannah Horvath. She also appeared in the dramatic comedy Happy Christmas with Anna Kendrick that same year.

Life Beyond 'Girls'

Dunham stole the spotlight in 2012 for appearing in a controversial commercial for President Barack Obama during his campaign, in which she compared voting for the first time to having sex for the first time.

In late 2012, Dunham signed a reported $3.7 million deal with Random House for a book featuring essays about sex and love. Published in 2014, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's Learned became a best-seller.

A triple threat in the entertainment industry as a writer, filmmaker and actress, Dunham seems headed for a monumental career. As she told Vanity Fair in 2012, "Hard work pays off. I am so annoyed at my father for being right about that."

Sexual Assault Controversy and 'Hipster Racism'

Dunham's outspokenness landed her in hot water in November 2017, after the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault saga led to an outpouring of accusations against other men in Hollywood. After actress Aurora Perrineau accused Girls writer Murray Miller of raping her in 2012, when she was 17, Dunham and collaborator Jenni Konner issued a statement that read, "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.”

Following the massive backlash, Dunham apologized for sharing her "perspective" on her friend's situation, and expressed her belief 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."

Her apology was not enough for Zinzi Clemmons, who soon resigned from her post as a writer for the Dunham/Konner newsletter Lenny's Letter. Clemmons also raised the stakes by accusing Dunham and her friends of "hipster racism," and calling for women of color to "divest from Lena Dunham."

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