‘Friends’ co-creator ‘embarrassed’ over show’s lack of diversity, pledges RM17.6mil for African American studies


'Friends' ran for 10 seasons from 1994 to 2004. Photo: Handout

Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman admitted she is “embarrassed” over the lack of diversity in the hit 1990s sitcom, as she hoped to “make some difference” by pledging US$4mil (RM17.6mil) for African American studies.

The American TV writer-producer recalled that she was once bothered by the criticisms on the show, as per her interview with Los Angeles Times on June 29. At the time, she thought Friends was being “unfairly singled out” for the near-absence of Black characters and other people of colour.

Now, Kauffman says she understands the criticisms about Friends and believes they are fair. She came to realise this after the death of Black man George Floyd, who died in the hands of the police.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years. Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy,” she was quoted as saying. “It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”

Given this, Kauffman decided to pledge US$4mil to the African American studies department of her alma mater, Brandeis University in Massachusetts. This will allow the department to recruit more experts and teachers, plan research priorities, and provide students with an opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary scholarship, among others.

According to Kauffman, she has “gotten nothing but love” since her pledge was announced.

"I’ve gotten a flood of emails and texts and posts that have been nothing but supportive,” she said in the interview. “I’ve gotten a lot of ‘It’s about time.’ Not in a mean way. It’s just people acknowledging it was long overdue.”

As for criticisms on the show’s 2021 HBO Max special Friends: The Reunion and its failure to address the representation issue, Kauffman said she did not think the reunion was the appropriate way to talk about the matter.

“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 was quoted as saying.

Aside from her pledge, Kauffman also vowed to “act differently from now on” and push for more diversity in her future projects.

“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 said. “[...] 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.”

Meanwhile, Kauffman is not the only Friends alum who has spoken up on issues on diversity within the show.

Cast member David Schwimmer, who plays Ross Geller, said in a 2020 interview with The Guardian that he was “well aware of the lack of diversity.” He added that he even pushed for his character to start dating women of colour.

Friends ran for 10 seasons from 1994 to 2004. It stars Schwimmer, Courteney Cox (Monica), Jennifer Aniston (Rachel), Matthew Perry (Chandler), Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe) and Matt LeBlanc (Joey). – Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

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