Friends stars confront problematic storylines & lack of diversity
Friends star Aisha Tyler has addressed criticism that the sitcom lacked diversity and revealed her casting as Dr Charlie Wheeler was really important due to the show's "unrealistic representation".
The actress – who played palaeontology professor and love-interest to Joey and then Ross – also said that her character's ethnicity wasn't stated in the script, but once she secured the role she knew it was progress for the show which wasn't as diverse as reality.
"People of colour were always aware of it [the lack of diversity]. Even at the time, people were constantly pointing out that Friends wasn’t as diverse as the Manhattan of the real world," Tyler told The Guardian.
"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," she continued.
"But I knew it was something new for the show, and it was really important because, the fact of the matter was, it was a show set in Manhattan that was almost entirely Caucasian. It was an unrealistic representation of what the real world looked like."
Meanwhile, Cosimo Fusco – who played Rachel's Italian fling Paolo – described the scene in which he "touches Phoebe's ass" during a massage as "disrespectful", because he believed it offensively stereotyped all Italian men as sleazy.
"There was one scene where I was getting a massage, and I had to be this greasy guy who was touching Phoebe's ass," Fusco recalled.
"I had a problem with how it portrayed me, as if guys from Italy are like that. What they wanted me to do was quite disrespectful. But I remember we were able to find a compromise, so I felt comfortable."
On the majority-white cast, he added: "Today, one of the six would have to be black, of course."
Related: Friends actress recalls being told to come to audition looking "as hot as possible"
Paget Brewster – whose character Kathy cheated on Joey with Chandler, and was a big fan of The Velvetine Rabbit – said the problematic jokes were down to a different era, which can't be compared to today's world with social media.
"It's so bizarre to compare the show at that time to what’s happening now on social media. No one can do anything right, ever. That’s basically where we are.
"Everything is people being questioned or attacked. Yeah, if you look at the world today, and you look at Friends, you go: 'Oh, wow, there were gay jokes and they don’t have friends of colour.' But that's what it was then."
Friends is available to stream now on Netflix.
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