Friends creator 'I'm embarrassed' for lack of diversity on sitcom

Friends creator Marta Kauffman expressed her regret over the show's lack of diversity and has pledged $4million (£3million) to support African American studies.

The groundbreaking sitcom – which starred Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry – has long been criticised for casting only two people of colour over 10 years, as well as for using un-PC stereotypes as punchlines.

Reflecting on how society has changed decades later, the 65-year-old producer donated a generous amount of money ($4M) to the African and African American studies department at Brandeis University, located in Massachusetts.

Kauffman has been vocal about the little diversity displayed on the Emmy award-winning programme and recently expressed that she ‘didn’t know better’ at the time.

‘I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,’ she said.

‘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,’ she told The Los Angeles Times.

Friends only featured two notable Black characters across 10 seasons, one of whom featured in just one episode. They were Aisha Tyler as Ross Geller’s (David Schwimmer) girlfriend Charlie Wheeler, and Gabrielle Union as Joey Tribbianni (Matt Le Blanc) and Ross’ love interest Kristen. 

Schwimmer admitted he spent years campaigning for more diverse characters. He told The Guardian: ‘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.’

He added: ‘It’s interesting also how the show handled the Judaism of the characters. I don’t think that was earth-shattering or groundbreaking at all, but I for one was glad that we had at least one episode where it wasn’t just about Christmas.

‘It was also Hanukkah and, even though I played the Hanukkah armadillo, I was glad that we at least acknowledged the differences in religious observation.’

Tyler (Charlie) was the first recurring Black character on the show. ‘People of colour were always aware of it [the lack of diversity],’ she told the Guardian. ‘Even at the time, people were constantly pointing out that Friends wasn’t as diverse as the Manhattan of the real world.

‘My character wasn’t written on the page to be a woman of colour, and I auditioned against a lot of other women of different ethnic backgrounds, so I like to think they picked me because I was the right person for the role.’

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