‘Friends’ co-creator apologizes for show’s lack of diversity, donates $4M to alma mater’s African American studies department
One of the co-creators of the hit ’90s show “Friends” is apologizing for the lack of diversity on the show and says she’s “putting [her] money where [her] mouth is” to make a difference in improving racial justice issues.
Marta Kauffman, who co-created the show with David Crane about a group of six close friends living in New York City, told the Los Angeles Times in an interview that she used to get irritated by the criticism the show received for its lack of diversity and felt it was being unfairly singled out.
“It was difficult and frustrating,” Kauffman said.
Today, however, Kauffman says the critiques about racial representation in the show were fair and a byproduct of her own internalized systemic racism. She also noted that the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the racial justice protests that followed opened her eyes to the greater problem.
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman told the Times. “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 racial reckoning in 2020 inspired the “Friends” co-creator, who also created Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,” to donate $4 million to establish an endowed professorship in the African American studies department at her alma mater, Brandeis University. The position will support a scholar concentrating in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora, according to Brandeis.
“It was after what happened to George Floyd that I began to wrestle with my having bought into systemic racism in ways I was never aware of,” Kauffman said. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”
“In this case, I’m finally, literally putting my money where my mouth is,” the show creator added.
“Friends,” which was a huge hit during its run and has earned new legions of fans through streaming, starred Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer. Other than a few scattered people of color seen in the background of some scenes, only a handful of diverse actors appeared on the show in short-lived roles, including Gabrielle Union, Mark Consuelos and Craig Robinson.
Kauffman said that although her donation to Brandeis has helped set her on a better path in uplifting diverse voices, she said she knows she still has work to do.
“I feel I was finally able to make some difference in the conversation,” the show creator said. “I have to say, after agreeing to this and when I stopped sweating, it didn’t unburden me, but it lifted me up. 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 color and actively pursue young writers of color. I want to know I will act differently from now on. And then I will feel unburdened.”