“Friends” may be one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, but everyone agrees that the series, which aired from 1994 to 2004, seriously lacked variety. The show centered around six 20/30-something white heterosexual people who were also thin, attractive, and had incredibly few money problems who had survived the ups and downs of adulthood in New York. While co-creator Marta Kaufman said the show was a product of its time (and her own ignorance), she came to acknowledge that guilt as well as some action.
It wasn’t just that Rachel, Monica. Phoebe, Ross, Joey, and Chandler were straight and white in “Friends,” as was much of New York’s Greenwich Village, in stark contrast to the real demographics of New York City. Marta Kaufman spoke about taking responsibility for this mistake almost 20 years after the series finale aired on NBC, telling the L.A. Times (via the New York Post):
I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years. It is not easy to admit and accept guilt. It hurts to look at yourself in the mirror. I’m ashamed that I didn’t know anything 25 years ago.
Marta Kaufman, who created Friends with David Crane, said that after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 increased racial tensions and racial awareness in the country, she knew she “needed to adjust course.” One way to do this was to donate $4 million to his alma mater, Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, to create a department in the school’s faculty of African and African American Studies. It is reported that at the same time she told the university:
It took me a long time to begin to understand how I internalized systemic racism. I have worked very hard to become an ally, an anti-racist. And it seemed to me that this was a way to participate in the conversation from the point of view of a white woman.
The university announced that the Martha F. Kaufman ’78 professorship in Afro- and Afro-American Studies “will support an outstanding scientist specializing in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora” and “will help the department recruit more experienced scientists and teachers, outline long-term academic and research priorities and provide students with new opportunities to participate in interdisciplinary research”.
But she said she knows that this step does not free her from past mistakes, which, as she now sees, there were many in the series. Marta Kaufman also promised a different experience in future projects. According to her:
I must say that after I agreed to this and when I stopped sweating, it did not relieve me, but lifted me up. But until I can do it right in my next production, it’s not over yet. From now on, I want to make sure that in every job I do, I consciously hire people of color and actively pursue young writers of color. I want to know that I will act differently now. And then I will feel unencumbered.
Marta Kaufman may have admitted that she didn’t know about the diversity issues of “Friends” at the time, but David Schwimmer said it was an issue he was well aware of during the filming of the show, and it was the reason he fought hard for his character to date women. colors. Ross dated Julie (Lauren Tom) at the beginning of the series, and later had a relationship with Charlie (Aisha Tyler), but these two actresses were the only people of color who had major recurring roles in all 10 seasons. However, Schwimmer defended the series for being ahead of its time in other ways, including its depiction of sex and same-sex marriage.
Problems with the representation of friends have not stopped some people from loving the series, as fans continue to watch it endlessly in syndication and streaming with an HBO Max subscription, but it is important to recognize the problem so that the worlds we see on television can now better reflect the people who actually live there. Check out our TV schedule for 2022 to find out which shows will premiere in the near future.