Friends creator apologises for lack of diversity with $4m pledge: ‘I’m embarrassed’

‘I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago’

Friends: The Reunion trailer

Marta Kauffman has apologised for the lack of diversity in her hit sitcom Friends.

To right her wrongs, the 65-year-old television writer and producer has pledged $4m (£3.2m) to fund an endowed chair at Brandeis University’s African and African American studies department.

Kauffman has also publicly expressed the “embarrassment” of how she “didn’t know better 25 years ago”.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman said in a new interview with The Los Angeles Times.

“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 was in her 30s when the first episode of Friends aired. At the time, she and her co-creator David Crane went for an all-white cast consisting of Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, and Matthew Perry who hardly interacted with Black, brown, or Asian people.

“It took me a long time to begin to understand how I internalised systemic racism,” Kauffman said.

“I’ve been working really hard to become an ally, an anti-racist. And this seemed to me to be a way that I could participate in the conversation from a white woman’s perspective.”

According to a statement, Kauffman’s fund is set to “support a distinguished scholar with a concentration in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora”.

In 2021, Friends director and producer Ben Winston responded to criticism that the highly anticipated Friends: The Reunion special lacked diversity.

Speaking to The Times, the decorated TV producer pointed out the various ways the Reunion creators aimed to include voices from around the globe.

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“We have Malala, Mindy Kaling, BTS,” Winston said. “There are three women from Ghana, one who talks about how Friends saved her life. Two boys from Kenya. Three kids in India.”

“What more diversity do they want in this reunion?” Winston added. “The cast is the cast. It was made in 1994. I think it’s remarkable how well it does stand the test of time.”

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, co-creator Kevin Bright said: “There are different priorities today and so much has changed.

“It’s important for today’s shows to be reflective of the ways society truly is. We didn’t intend to have an all-white cast,” he added. “That was not the goal, either. Obviously, the chemistry between these six actors speaks for itself.

“What can I say?” Bright concluded. “I wish Lisa was Black? I’ve loved this cast. I loved the show and I loved the experience.”

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