Friends creator gives $4m apology for ‘embarrassing’ whiteness of show
One of the creators of the hit television series Friends has donated $4 million to her alma mater in an apology for the “embarrassing” whiteness of the show.
Marta Kauffman said she once felt Friends was “unfairly” singled out for the absence of people of colour, but realised she had been wrong following the civil rights uproar of 2020.
“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,” Ms Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times.
“That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”
Ms Kauffman has now made a donation to Brandeis University's African and African American studies department that will support a distinguished scholar who is concentrating on the area of peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora.
“I’ve gotten nothing but love," she said of the reaction to her announcement. "It’s been amazing. It surprised me to some extent because I didn’t expect the news to go this wide.
“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.”
Ms Kauffman said the series' failure to include a more diverse cast reflected her internalisation of America’s systematic racism and now sees any criticism as fair.
“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. "
Each of the main characters in Friends — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer — are white and during its ten-season run, other non-white characters were scarce and any interactions included fleeting.
In response to criticism in 2003, Aisha Tyler was cast as a palaeontology professor who worked and dated Mr Schwimmer’s character Ross, but her tenure lasted just nine episodes.
At the time, producers pushed back at criticism.
But in 2020 Mr Schwimmer said it felt “just wrong” that there was not more diversity: “I really felt like Ross should date other people, women of all races.”