Friends Co-Creator Marta Kauffman Issues $5.8 Million Apology For the Show’s Diversity Issue
It’s been 28 years since Friends premiered, and it’s been a comedic sensation ever since. Whether you grew up on the show or discovered it later on in life, the sitcom starring Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow and Matt Le Blanc is loved by all.
Throughout 10 seasons, fans watch a group of young adults navigate through life in the most hilarious of ways, but despite being relatable, fans have been quick to point out a major flaw: The lack of diversity.
In the past, co-creator Marta Kauffman has struggled to acknowledge the glaring problem of having an all-white cast, telling the Los Angeles Times that the show was being singled out.
Calling the criticism “difficult and frustrating”, Kauffman refused to see the error in her ways.
However, close to 20 years later, Kauffman has now accepted blame and is issuing a USD$4 million apology ($5.8 million AUD).
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman told The New York Post. “Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”
The show, which ran from 1994 to 2004, centred on a group of six white, heterosexual best friends living in Greenwich Village — a historically queer neighbourhood — in New York City, a widely diverse city.
Throughout its 10-year run, the sitcom featured just one recurring Black character. Charlie Wheeler, who was played by Aisha Tyler, was a short-term love interest for Joey and Ross in Season 9. She appeared in nine episodes across the show’s 236-episode run.
In fact, the only other POC character in a recurring role was also one of Ross’ short-term love interests, Julie. Played by Lauren Tom, who is of Chinese descent, Julie’s character appeared in seven episodes.
It was after the 2020 murder of George Floyd that Kauffman began to acknowledge America’s history of racism and how she has contributed to that system.
“I knew then I needed to course-correct,” she explained.
In an attempt to turn things around, Kauffman pledged $US4 million (AUD$5.8 million) to her alma mater, Brandeis University, to help fund an endowed chair in the school’s African and African American studies department.
The Marta F. Kauffman ’78 Professorship in African and African American Studies “will support a distinguished scholar with a concentration in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora”. It will also “assist the department to recruit more expert scholars and teachers, map long-term academic and research priorities and provide new opportunities for students to engage in interdisciplinary scholarship,” the Waltham, Massachusetts-based university announced.
“It took me a long time to begin to understand how I internalised systemic racism,” Kauffman, who is worth close to $600 million, told Brandeis.
“I’ve been working really hard to become an ally, an anti-racist. And this seemed to me to be a way that I could participate in the conversation from a white woman’s perspective.”
Last year, Friends: The Reunion, which was available to watch on BINGE, sparked renewed calls to address its diversity issue, however, at the time Kauffman felt it was inappropriate.
“I don’t know how the two were related. And I also don’t know how we could have addressed it in that context of that reunion, going into all the things we did wrong. And there were others,” she told the LA Times.
While Kauffman has previously spoken out about her regrets from the show, saying there were “probably a hundred things I would have done differently,” her co-creator Kevin Bright stood firm on his choice.
“I would have been insane not to hire those six actors. What can I say? I wish Lisa was black?” he told the Hollywood Reporter.
Since pledging the money, Kauffman has said she has received “nothing but love”.
“In this case, I’m finally, literally putting my money where my mouth is,” Kauffman said. “I feel I was finally able to make some difference in the conversation.”
“I have to say, after agreeing to this and when I stopped sweating, it didn’t unburden me, but it lifted me up,” she continued. “But until in my next production, I can do it right, it isn’t over.
“I want to make sure from now on in every production I do that I am conscious in hiring people of colour and actively pursue young writers of colour. I want to know I will act differently from now on. And then I will feel unburdened.”