Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman says she feels “embarrassed” about the show’s lack of diversity and is donating $4 million to her alma mater to go toward Black studies.
Kauffman has committed to donating the funds to the African and African American Studies in an effort to make good on what she feels was a big oversight in creating Friends.
For years, 'Friends' been criticized for focusing almost solely on straight, white characters in New York, despite the diversity of the city.
Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times that the criticism surrounding the show was “difficult and frustrating” to her, but over the last few years has changed her mind in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer.
She said of her change of heart, “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 continued “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”
She continued, saying, “I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years. 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.”
Kauffman has pledged $4 million to Brandeis University, her alma mater.
Kauffman has pledged $4 million to Brandeis University, her alma mater. The funds will establish The Marta F. Kauffman ’78 Professorship in African and African American Studies. The fund will support students studying Africa and the African diaspora, allow the department to recruit more expert scholars and teachers, and provide a host of new opportunities for existing students.
“I feel I was finally able to make some difference in the conversation,” she said. “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.”
She previously lamented on the fact 'Friends' was not diverse when one of the show's EPs and directors said he had no regets.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2021, Friends exec producer Kevin Bright said he had no regrets about having an all-white cast saying, “the chemistry between these six actors speaks for itself. What can I say? I wish Lisa was Black? I’ve loved this cast. I loved the show and I loved the experience. I know Marta has a different feeling about it. I think it affects us all.”
Kauffman had a slightly different feeling at the time, adding, “There are probably a hundred things I would have done differently. I’ve talked about it in the past and I do have very strong feelings about my participation in a system, but it comes down to I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
Many people already know 'Living Single' was 'Friends' before 'Friends,' with some fans claiming it was a case of taking an idea from a Black show and running with it.
In 2020, Erika Alexander responded to Friends star David Schwimmer’s claim that maybe they should make an all-Black version of the show, saying in part:
“You see, David didn’t realize that the so-called, all Black Friends had already happened. In fact, I was in it. A sitcom I’m proud of, called Living Single, created by Yvette Lee Bowser. And we happened a year before his show, Friends, was on the air. In fact, Living Single had happened within the same studio, Warner Brothers, in Burbank, on the annexed lot near his called The Warner Ranch.”