Lena Dunham & Amanda Bynes Show The Two Sides Of Celebrity Redemption

Photo: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic.
Celebrity profiles are nowhere near as frequent as they once were. Back in September the New York Times pointed out that stars are shying away from traditional media and interviews, and instead leaning towards those charming but unrevealing conversations between two celebrities, like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone, Harry Styles and Timothée Chalamet, or Taylor Swift and Pattie Boyd.
This shields both subjects from any questions or sensitive topics that put their curated image at risk, since the conversation is between two people who have vested interests in staying away from controversy. A journalist, however, asks the hard questions, and this week, two celebrities were finally willing to play ball.
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We’ve heard from both Lena Dunham and Amanda Bynes, who were profiled in The Cut and Paper Magazine, respectively, before. In many ways, both of their downfalls came from saying too much at the wrong time, aided and abetted by social media. Dunham has admittedly put her foot in her mouth on Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, and in plain-old interviews, so much so that there’s even a Twitter account that acts as a “Lena Dunham Apology Generator.” That’s kind of the point of Allison Davis’ profile — to take stock of where Dunham stands now and give her a chance at redemption in the court of public opinion. Unlike Dunham’s profile, the message of Bynes’ comeback is that she’s very much not the person you thought she was, at least not anymore. Two attempts to draw a line in the sand, two wildly different receptions.
“Yeah, I’m not for everyone,” Dunham tells Davis (that’s actually the headline on the piece, which was the top-viewed story on The Cut on Tuesday), going on to say that her new plan is to be a conduit for other voices, rather than just her own. At no point in the piece does Dunham make a fresh apology; rather, old ones are rehashed and amount to nothing more than the conclusion that what you see is what you get.
Amanda Bynes wants to change your mind through the Paper magazine profile released Monday evening. The cover proclaims that, like Kim Kardashian’s 2014 nudes, it would “break the internet.” The internet did indeed take kindly to admissions from Bynes such as: "I'm really ashamed and embarrassed with the things I said...Everything I worked my whole life to achieve, I kind of ruined it all through Twitter. It's definitely not Twitter's fault — it's my own fault."
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In 2013, over a series of disconnected and sometimes offensive tweets, the world watched the former Nickelodeon star descend into...something. It wasn’t clear what was going on when the actress tweeted things like “I would rather [my parents] be homeless than live off my money” and “I want Drake to murder my vagina,” but people were happy to guess (she has since deleted the tweets). Many believed the star was having a psychotic breakdown, that she was mentally unwell, or, in what turned out the be the truth, that she was on drugs.
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Bynes is a former child star in the traditional sense, getting plucked from All That to star in all three seasons of The Amanda Show when she was just 13. She was beloved for her entire career, until, with fewer acting projects on the horizon, her Twitter presence took a left turn. Dunham’s rise was similarly swift in later-in-life, starting with her 2010 film Tiny Furniture, which she made in her early 20s after she graduated from Oberlin College. That acclaimed film (she wrote, directed and co-starred) landed her the HBO series Girls, which garnered immediate praise — but backlash soon followed. For all of her talents, Dunham’s blind spots regarding race and privilege, and resultant public missteps have made her post-Girls life less charmed. Her latest project, Camping, received so-so reviews, and met with a much less receptive audience. Success at an early age rocketed both Dunham and Bynes into far more than they had bargained for.
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Bynes’ fall from grace was a sadly predictable one, a road traveled by so many child stars, living and dead, before her. However, her jump to movies, mixed with increased drug use — particularly marijuana and Adderall — fueled her body image insecurities. It was her disgust with her body that led to her to quit acting altogether, she told Paper.
"I literally couldn't stand my appearance in that movie and I didn't like my performance,” Bynes said of 2010’s Easy A. “I was absolutely convinced I needed to stop acting after seeing it."
She soon stopped acting and started abusing the drugs and alcohol that eventually led to her 2014 DUI address and subsequent absence from public life. For the past four years or so, she’s been putting herself back together with family and college, and the public welcomed her return with open arms – and offered an apology of its own Monday night on Twitter.
Similar deference was given to other celebrities who have successfully pulled off redemption arcs. Anne Hathaway, after becoming the subject of unwarranted, can’t-put-your-finger-on-it dislike in 2013 sparked by her overwrought Oscars acceptance speech, emerged triumphant thanks to her work in Colossal and Ocean’s 8, prompting individuals and entire publications to apologize for previously dismissing the actress. Even Lindsay Lohan, who hasn’t proven to be entirely scandal-free since her June New York Times comeback, still did a 180 that allowed her to both open a resort in Mykonos and star in an upcoming reality show.
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For Dunham, the response was...not so kind.
While Bynes and Dunham’s rises have parallels, their attempts at redemption could not have resulted in more disparate responses. (Tactless, tone-deaf or not, Dunham arguably lacks the public goodwill afforded Bynes and other child stars, who grew up, and suffered, in the spotlight from a very young age.) Both women are taking ownership of the narratives the public had previously held hostage, even if that means revealing themselves to be exactly the kind of person most people believed.
No matter how successful the redemption, the move is necessary for either of their careers to progress, especially since both women are so young. It’s for this reason that you’ll often see these stories (long-winded interviews that purport to lay it all out in a way the star never has before) appear just before a big project drops (Johnny Depp, anyone?). For both Bynes and Dunham, there’s no more hiding, and whether it’s taken as a tease or a warning, one thing’s for sure: You will see them again.
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