By Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images.
Three months after dissolving her producing partnership with Jenni Konner, Lena Dunham has turned a surprising new page in her career by announcing that she will adapt a Syrian refugee’s survival story for a film co-produced by Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams.
For Dunham—an artist whose outspokenness has led to some high-profile gaffes, controversial creative decisions, and subsequent apologies—the collaboration might be her boldest yet. Dunham’s most popular entertainment output, Girls, was criticized for its depiction of white, privileged women and lack of diversity. Now, she has signed on to adapt a story on the opposite end of the human spectrum—the 2017 novel A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival, written by Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The book, published last year, chronicles the harrowing journey made by one young woman, Doaa Al Zamel, out of civil war-torn Syria. Hoping to find asylum in Europe, Al Zamel boarded a smugglers’ ship only to face tragedy again when the vessel wrecked—resulting in the deaths of nearly 500 fellow refugees, including Al Zamel’s fiancé. Al Zamel was one of only 11 survivors, and eventually resettled in Sweden.
Dunham confirmed the project on Twitter Monday, writing, “Very lucky to have this job, to tell this story, to support this truth with these people. ❤️”
Fleming similarly shared her excitement about the collaboration on Twitter, writing, “I feel very lucky to have the remarkable @lenadunham adapting my book, A Hope More Powerful than the Sea to a screenplay, and the masters, Steven Spielberg & J.J. Abrams making it into a film.”
The news was also greeted with criticism on Twitter by users who felt the Emmy-nominated Dunham an odd choice for the assignment.
Dunham has already responded directly to one critic. After the news broke, Syrian and Cuban author Suzanne Samin asked Dunham whether she has donated to Syrian-refugee organizations or relief efforts, explaining, “Just curious if you’ve at least done that before you profit off my people’s pain!”
Dunham responded, “I’m actually donating every penny I make. Every step of the way. Not a single one kept. Very honored to be able to do that and I’ll ‘share the receipts’ so to speak.” She later followed up, “If you’d ever like to discuss the project, I like to receive perspectives and engage in dialogue ❤️.”
Last year, Dunham revealed that she has learned to tune out her critics. “I used to think the worst thing in the world could be for someone to have a thought about you that you didn’t have yourself,” Dunham explained. “Now I’m like, ‘Have at it, guys!’”