It took her a while, but Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman is finally ready to face the criticism about her sitcom’s lack of diversity. In an attempt to “course-correct,” Kauffman has donated $4 million to her alma mater, Brandeis University, to establish an endowed professorship in the school’s African and African American studies department.
Brandeis’ African and African American studies department was established in 1969 and is one of the oldest such departments in the country. The Marta F. Kauffman ’78 Professorship in African and African American Studies will help the department recruit more students and teachers, as well as support one distinguished scholar in the program.
Friends has long been criticized for featuring almost zero people of color in the show, which is set in New York, of all places. Lauren Tom, Gabrielle Union, Mark Consuelos, and Craig Robinson all appeared in the sitcom in small roles, while Aisha Tyler, who played Charlie, the paleontology professor who dated both Joey and Ross, scored the juiciest part for a non-white actor with a whopping nine episodes. Kauffman spent years rebuffing accusations of whitewashing, but said the murder of George Floyd inspired her to look inward.
“It was after what happened to George Floyd that I began to wrestle with my having bought into systemic racism in ways I was never aware of,” Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman added. “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. ”
Despite “putting [her] money where [her] mouth is,” Kauffman insisted on also putting her much-belated Racism Realization to good use by creating more diverse television shows moving forward. “I have to say, after agreeing to this and when I stopped sweating, it didn’t unburden me, but it lifted me up. But until in my next production I can do it right, it isn’t over,” she said. “I want to make sure from now on in every production I do that I am conscious in hiring people of color and actively pursue young writers of color. I want to know I will act differently from now on. And then I will feel unburdened.”
After the show moved to HBO Max in 2020, the cast of Friends reunited for a one-off special. Meanwhile, the original series has been censored so intensely by Chinese streaming services that sex and LGBTQ+ people don’t even exist.