In an interview, Nina Lee details her 2017 show and the issues she experienced after it went viral.
A teaser trailer for Lena Waithe’s latest project, Girls Room debuted last Friday. In partnership with Dove, the show received a bit of pushback from social media users for the inclusion of names that seemed to be from a different time period and also for allegedly copying its concept from a previous project.
Get to know Melba, Minnie, Thelma, Gloria, and Carlotta in Girls Room, a new show created by @LenaWaithe about a group of high school friends dealing with bullies, social media, body insecurities, and so much more. pic.twitter.com/sbzjHVeIKi
— ATTN: (@attn) February 21, 2020
Girls Room centers a group of multiracial high school-aged girls. The show features names pulled directly from participants of the Little Rock Nine: Melba, Minnie, Thelma, Gloria, and Carlotta. The show will address thorny issues like bullying, body image in the age of social media.
Following the rollout of the trailer, Nina Lee, a screenwriter based in Atlanta, took to Twitter to share that she had previously created and written a project titled The Girls Room in 2017, it was never unveiled. Lee claimed that Waithe’s show was derivative of her previous project with the same name. One tweet paired with a screenshot of an Instagram account screenshot read, “I made a lot of mistakes when it came to this show. Mistakes I can still feel. We were young and didn’t know what we had in our hands,” she wrote.
I made a lot of mistakes when it came to this show. Mistakes I can still feel. And I wish I knew then what I know now. We were young and didn’t know what we had on our hands. But thanks everyone involved! I’ve written 4 shows since then so if you’re an investor holla at me. pic.twitter.com/u3edwCbOm4
— Nina Lee (@NinaSerafina) February 23, 2020
😢 this is the last thing I post on this, I just always loved this photo. pic.twitter.com/BCMThxK2ax
— Nina Lee (@NinaSerafina) February 23, 2020
In an additional tweet, Lee who went to Spelman College and studied screenwriting expressed that there were other distinct differences in both of the projects. In a phone call, Nina shared that she wrote The Girls Room while she was in college. The show was set to explore a group of black women who became friends after meeting in the bathroom while at a club. It also was slated to unpack the struggles and successes the group experienced while in their 20s. A former friend initially reached out to Lee about producing the show for a graduate school class and she happily agreed. Photoshoots, an Instagram account, and a teaser would follow, shortly after releasing these assets publicly, The Girls Room went viral online.
“It became this huge thing and everything that could go wrong with this really went wrong,” she said. Her former friend had her sign paperwork showing her professor that she gave her permission to use her show as her project. “[As companies] began reaching out to us, she comes to me and says I want you off the project,” Lee shared. This was directly after large companies were sent assets of the show.
Then, on the last day of filming, the show’s director of photography was robbed of his laptop, his computer and his harddrive and the crew lost all of their footage. At that point, Lee said she hung up her dreams of the project and decided to move on.
On February 25, Lee reached back out to Okayplayer and noted that she had a lawyer read through the paperwork she signed previously. The paperwork which she previously believed signed over her rights The Girls Room is no longer valid.
When touching on the idea of Waithe unveiling Girls Room she shared, “I honestly didn’t think that she had stolen it from me. When I started posting about it, I was like ‘this sucks, it would’ve been great if I would’ve been able to come out with my show.’” Lee said. “Twitter was like no she stole your show.”
Ultimately, Lee feels that the shows are similar to one another, she pointed out that she agreed with social media users who shared that the lighting on both shows looked alike. Additionally, she agreed that the fact that the 2020 version of The Girls Room being set in a bathroom was another similarity. Despite this, Lee details that she has other projects she’s more passionate about that she’d love to see come into fruition.
One of her latest scripts, Clubhouse is a show about four black women in their mid to late twenties who are roommates. When one has to move out, they decide to turn her room into an Airbnb. Each episode of the series will follow a new guest in the room that has their own set of issues, it also showcases how the women are navigating their lives.
During our call, Lee spoke about her work being heavily influenced by growing up in Atlanta, Georgia. She also detailed that she chooses to focus on black women and also selects dark-skinned and brown-skinned women as the center of her projects. Lee believes more representation is needed for women of these complexions between the ages of 18 and 30.
A spokesperson at Dove has shared that the company began working on Girls Room in early 2017. Per the representative, the name of the series was developed before Waithe or ATTN: were added to the project and the title was chosen because the scenes take place in the “Girls Room.” Additionally, the statement notes that the similarity to any other creative projects is “entirely unintentional.” Dove also tweeted a statement that you can read below.
It’s important to us to provide clarity here. We started work on Girls Room in 2017 and named it before Lena and ATTN: were added to the project. The name was selected because our scenes take place in a “Girls Room,” any similarity to other projects is entirely unintentional.
— Dove (@Dove) February 25, 2020
On, February 26 Waithe released a statement via her Twitter account stating the following:
“There has been an accusation floating around that I want to address. In 2019, I partnered with @Dove for their project #GirlsRoom. Prior to my joining the project, in 2017 a @Dove partner came up with the title and the concept from which my scripts were based. I was brought on to write the scripts and produce the content. “
She also shared:
“I have never seen Nina Lee’s work nor would I ever steal another artist’s work. As a fellow creator myself, I can only imagine how she must be feeling and I look to #Dove to give us more clarity on the situation. Now that I’m aware of Nina Lee, I look forward to seeing her art.”
— Lena Waithe (@LenaWaithe) February 26, 2020
On February 26, Nina Lee took to her Twitter account to share that she had spoken with Lena Waithe and she and the director of Dove’s Girls Room assured her that they would “never steal, copy, or mimic another Black woman’s work.” The statement also read, “They also told me about how supportive they are of Black women in film, and that they look forward to seeing my work someday. While I appreciate their outreach, I still want to take the time to point out that there is an important discourse to be had here.”
She goes on to share:
“Black artists have historically struggled with having our own work taken from us against our will and without our permission. Therefore, I am not surprised to see what feels like a commodified version of my art being co-opted by a major corporation. However, it is not without irony that Dove sought to create a series centered on the inclusivity and representation of women like me, who often feel erased from our own narratives.”
Further in the statement, Lee makes expands on the similarities of the projects by sharing, “And while Lena was brought on after Dove created the show in 2017 (the same year my promo was released) – I think we can all acknowledge this while still recognizing a multi-billion dollar corporation and a director with an established personal brand and platform are benefitting from an idea that has uncanny similarities to my own.”
She concludes her statement with the following:
“I reiterate this all to say that as an independent filmmaker who is scraping by on extremely limited resources, this hurts. I don’t blame Lena or Dove, I just hope my transparency can prevent another situation like this from happening again.”
Read the entire statement below.
— Nina Lee (@NinaSerafina) February 27, 2020
In a previous version of this article, Nina Lee alleged that she signed a contract by her former friend that she later found out gave her rights to The Girls Room. The previous article also noted that Lee had a lawyer get involved with the paperwork, but this, unfortunately, didn’t solve the copyright issues she was experiencing.
Robyn Mowatt is a staff writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind @robyn_mowatt.