'Friends' Co-Creator Donates $4 Million After Diversity Criticism
by Kenna McCafferty
01 July 2022
Marta Kauffman, co-creator of Friends is “embarrassed” by the lack of diversity in the hit '90s show. Over the last nearly 20 years since the show’s end date, Kauffman says she's been listening and learning, and is now pledging a hefty donation to her Alma Mater, Brandeis University.
Kauffman’s $4 million donation will go towards an endowed professorship in the African and African American Studies department aimed at supporting scholars “with a concentration in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora.” The professorship will be formally named the Marta Kaufman ‘78 Professorship in African and African American Studies, and, not, as we had hoped, the Justice for Charlie Wheeler Professorship in African and African American Studies.
Remember... the nine-episode run Aisha Tyler had as the only recurring Black character on Friends? At least she got back together with her ex, but dating Ross warrants reparations on its own.
In an interview with Los Angeles Times, Kauffman shed light on her own struggle with accountability for the show’s striking lack of diversity. In the early days of criticism against the show, Kauffman shared that she felt unfairly singled out, finding the call-outs of the near-erasure of Black people and other people of color “difficult and frustrating.” But now, nearly 25 years later, she gets it.
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman shared with the LA 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’s watershed moment didn’t come throughout the 10-season run of the iconic sitcom, but struck instead in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the swell of Black Lives Matter protests and education that rose around it.
Though it might’ve come late, Kauffman’s commitment to righting her wrongs is not little. The $4 pledge will also assist Brandeis’ Africa and African diaspora department to recruit more expert scholars and teachers, map long-term academic and research priorities and provide new opportunities for students to engage in interdisciplinary scholarship — hopefully, of Black scholars.
The donation arrives a little over a year after the cast of Friends reunited for an HBO Max special, re-opening the conversation about the scarce representation for people of color during its 20-year run. Aside from Aisha Tyler as Charlie Wheeler, Lauren Tom, Gabrielle Union, Mark Consuelos, and Craig Robinson were among the few people of color who did appear on the show, though their roles and interactions with the core six.
Schwimmer, in particular, commented in 2020 that he had pushed for Ross to date diverse women, though we wouldn’t have wanted to subject another woman to dating Ross. For now, it seems that the cast and crew of Friends have been receptive to the public's feedback, and we hope to see more members answering the call to correct the show’s lack of diversity.
Photo via Getty