TV sitcom co-creator Friend is planning to donate $4 million to an African-American and African-American research project because she is so “embarrassed” by – and feels “guilty” about – skin homogeneity of characters from the classic coming-of-age series.
Marta Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times that she intended for her planned gift to fund Marta F Kauffman ’78 Professor of African American and African American Studies at her alma mater, Brandeis University, a high school liberal arts college in Massachusetts.
Kauffman said it was “difficult and frustrating” at first to see Friends criticized for the lack of diverse characters on a show that ran for 10 seasons after it premiered in 1994, according to the Times. The show has earned tens of millions of dollars in distribution and streaming for its creators and cast, including Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer.
After Netflix announced it was dropping the sitcom in 2019, Saul Austerlitz, who wrote Generation of Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era, said Friends has taken a central place in American popular culture.
“Yes, it’s a sitcom, but it’s also a soap opera,” Austerlitz told the Times. “So you can watch in order or you can watch your favorite episodes.”
But after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in 2020, sparking racial justice protests across the country, Friends became a target of criticism. Many wonder how, in Manhattan’s racially diverse Upper West Side, characters seem to exist without interacting with any residents or visitors of color.
When HBO streamed last year Friends: The ReunionAn LA Times diversity writer said it wasn’t “a moment of celebration for everyone” and it could have been subtitled: “The One They Neglected Diversity – Again “.
“At a time when the television landscape is becoming increasingly diverse and inclusive, it is frustrating – if not entirely inappropriate – to raise a glass to a sitcom that is so blind to diversity. culture of the world where it takes place,” Greg Braxton noted.
Kauffman said that she initially felt Friends were unfairly excluded because of their racial and ethnic identity, saying, “It was difficult and frustrating.” But she said she now feels that the criticism is fair.
“After what happened to George Floyd, I began to grapple with the fact that I was exposed to systemic racism in ways that I never knew existed,” Kauffman said. “It was really at that point that I started looking at the ways I got involved. I know then I need to fix it. “
Kauffman says Friends’ lack of diversity illustrates how she’s taken on that systemic racism.
“I have learned a lot in the last 20 years,” she told the Times. “Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. Looking at myself in the mirror is painful. I’m ashamed because 25 years ago I didn’t know better.”
The color features on Friends are largely fleeting. Schwimmer said in a 2020 interview that the lack of broader cultural representation was “a mistake,” and he described advocating for his character Ross dating diverse women.
“I really feel Ross should date other people, women of all races,” Schwimmer said.
The title of Professor Kauffman is planned to be established within the Brandeis division of African American and African American studies to support scholarship on the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora.
Kauffman said she received messages of support after announcing her gift.
“I got a lot of, ‘It’s about time,'” she told the Times. “Not in a bad way – just people admit it’s long overdue.”