Marta Kauffman says she now gets why people have been critical of “Friends.”
The co-creator of the hit comedy series told the Los Angeles Times she had initially thought people were unfairly targeting the sitcom about its lack of diversity, but explained she’s “learned a lot in the last 20 years.”
“Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy,” Kaufman said. “It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”
“Friends,” which ran from 1994 - 2004, starred Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer. It had been criticized for a lack of longstanding characters of color.
In 2020, Schwimmer told The Guardian he was “very aware of my privilege as a heterosexual white male” and said “Friends” happened during a “pre-woke” time, when story was not as inclusive.
“Maybe there should be an all-Black ‘Friends’ or an all-Asian ‘Friends,’” said Schwimmer, who played Ross for 10 seasons. “But I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color. One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian-American woman, and later I dated African-American women. That was a very conscious push on my part.”
That didn’t go over well with some who pointed out that the all-Black cast comedy “Living Single” aired from 1993 to 1998 (predating “Friends” by a year”) and, like “Friends,” focused on six young adults and their intertwined lives in New York City.
Kauffman, who created “Friends” with David Crane, told the LA Times that she came to better understand systemic racism in the US after the George Floyd murder and consequently the complaints about the show.
That helped motivate her to pledge $4 million to her alma mater, Brandeis University in Boston, for the establishment of an endowed professorship in the school’s African and African American studies department.
Since the endowment was announced, Kauffman said she’s “gotten nothing but love.”
“It’s been amazing. It surprised me to some extent, because I didn’t expect the news to go this wide,” she said. “I’ve gotten a flood of emails and texts and posts that have been nothing but supportive. I’ve gotten a lot of ‘It’s about time.’ Not in a mean way. It’s just people acknowledging it was long overdue.”