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‘Friends’ Creator Offers $4 Million Apology For Lack Of Diversity

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Friends offered a memorable cast of main characters, but it has also received criticism for lacking diversity. Initially, Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman dismissed claims against the ’90s program starring Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courtney Cox, and other enduring icons. In the decades since the series ended, Kauffman is now remorseful – and backing her feelings with a $4 million apology.

Some of the criticism comes from the setting, which is Greenwich Village, New York. “The Village,” as it is nicknamed, is the home of the Stonewall Inn, starting point for the riots that were monumental in securing gay rights in the U.S. But all of the Friends cast are straight. As for New York City as a whole, it sports a diverse mix of white, Black, Asian, and other ethnic identities, but only one is front and center. Learn more of what Kauffman has to say about this show and her response to those feelings here.

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Marta Kauffman discusses diversity in ‘Friends’

FRIENDS, (back, l to r): Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, (front, l to r): Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, (Season 1), 1994-2004, © Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Friends was created by Kauffman and David Crane and follows a handful of friends that helped lay the foundations for one of the most-watched shows of the 2000s. However, it has also been criticized for its lack of diversity, boasting a white, heterosexual main cast in a diverse area with history in the LGBT+ movement. Being told these criticisms, Kauffman said, “It was difficult and frustrating.” She also felt the show was singled out for these critiques.

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Following the highly publicized murder of George Floyd, however, Kauffman is revisiting the show’s casting and is expressing regret. “I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” she stated. “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.” In that time of reflection, she said, “It took me a long time to begin to understand how I internalized systemic racism.” Ultimately, she concluded, “I knew then I needed to course-correct.”

Kauffman offers a financial apology

Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman / F. Sadou/AdMedia / ImageCollect

As a way to apologize, Kauffman is offering $4 million to Brandeis University, the college she graduated from in 1978 with a BA in theater. The full title of the pledge is the Marta F. Kauffman ’78 Professorship in African and African American Studies and it is for an endowed chair in the school’s African and African American studies department. Just as Greenwich Village has a rich cultural history, Brandeis University’s African American studies department is one of the oldest in the U.S. This move is the first of its kind in the department’s 50 years of activity. The fund is to “support a distinguished scholar with a concentration in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora.” It also has the goal of helping the department further support students and new research initiatives.

Brandeis University, which houses one of the oldest African and African American studies programs in the country / Wikimedia Commons

“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,” shared Kauffman of her plan. Of her time at the university, Kauffman says, “It was the beginning of caring about things beyond my sphere and I credit Brandeis for that.” Professor Chad Williams says this is crucial to the department’s success and growth, adding, “To have this actually happen really speaks to the remarkable history of this department, of its students, of its faculty, of its alumni.”

Greenwich Village, New York, the culturally rich and historically significant settong of Friends / Wikimedia Commons

RELATED: ‘Friends’ Star Jennifer Aniston Honors Father At 49th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards

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