Lena Dunham Decides People Should Be Paid for Their Work

Micah Uetricht

You can't eat exposure. Luckily, Lena Dunham is now paying more than that. (Fortune / Flickr)

Lena Dunham is the creator of GIRLS, and her character on the show, Hannah, considers herself the voice of a generation—a generation which, its spokesperson surely already knows, is underemployed, overeducated, crushed with debt, and generally in need of some work. Work that pays, in particular.

So it was a bit strange that a recent New York Times piece revealed that Dunham was about to hire several performers to work for her, and she wasn’t going to pay them. 

The article mentioned in passing that for Dunham’s upcoming tour for her new book, Not That Kind of Girl (for which she was paid an advance of $3.7 million), she opened up auditions for the tour. Dunham received over 600 submissions, from a wide cast of characters that included a sand artist, a ukulele player, a cappella singers, gymnasts, performance artists and stand-up comics, even some exceptionally charismatic babies.”

The Times described the event as more like a roving Burning Man festival than a sober, meet-the-author literary event.” Which is a pretty apt description, since no money exchanges hands at Burning Man, and Lena Dunham was not planning on exchanging any money with her performers. 

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan zeroed in on four words in the piece: performing free of charge.” As in, the performers opening up for Dunham would not be paid.

Why did someone who just got paid $3.7 million for a book think it was okay not to pay people performing for working during a tour dedicated to selling that book? After the negative attention reached a fever pitch, late this afternoon, Dunham wisely reversed her decision and agreed to pay the openers.

In the grand scheme of things, Dunham’s initial refusal to pay performers represents a drop in the bucket of wages stolen from workers around the country. For example, the Economic Policy Institute has estimated that $19 billion is stolen from workers in overtime alone annually. But these are bleak times for American workers, particularly those of Dunham’s generation. In this case, a few performers won’t be settling just for exposure” and prestige” on Dunham’s upcoming book tour, and that’s a good thing.

Help In These Times Celebrate & Have Your Gift Matched!

In These Times is proud to share that we were recently awarded the 16th Annual Izzy Award from the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College. The Izzy Award goes to an independent outlet, journalist or producer for contributions to culture, politics or journalism created outside traditional corporate structures.

Fellow 2024 Izzy awardees include Trina Reynolds-Tyler and Sarah Conway for their joint investigative series “Missing In Chicago," and journalists Mohammed El-Kurd and Lynzy Billing. The Izzy judges also gave special recognition to Democracy Now! for coverage that documented the destruction wreaked in Gaza and raised Palestinian voices to public awareness.

In These Times is proud to stand alongside our fellow awardees in accepting the 2024 Izzy Award. To help us continue producing award-winning journalism a generous donor has pledged to match any donation, dollar-for-dollar, up to $20,000.

Will you help In These Times celebrate and have your gift matched today? Make a tax-deductible contribution to support independent media.

Micah Uetricht is an editor at Jacobin magazine. He is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor and former associate editor at In These Times, and the author of Strike for Amer­i­ca: Chica­go Teach­ers Against Aus­ter­i­ty and coauthor of Bigger Than Bernie: How We Go From the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism, and is currently at work on a book on New Leftists who took jobs in industries like steel and auto to organize on the shop floor.

The War on Protest Cover
Get 10 issues for $19.95

Subscribe to the print magazine.