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‘Friends’ creator’s $4M apology for lack of diversity

“Friends” has long been criticized for its lack of diversity, but co-creator Marta Kauffman is finally ready to admit her failure — with a $4 million apology.

Kauffman, 65, initially struggled to grasp the “difficult and frustrating” criticisms of her television series, choosing to believe the successful show was being singled out, she told the Los Angeles Times.

But nearly two decades after the show wrapped, Kauffman has begun to see the error of her ways.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman said in a Zoom interview. “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,” the television writer said.

The popular show, which ran from 1994 to 2004, features a group of six white, heterosexual best friends living in Greenwich Village — a famously gay neighborhood — in New York City — a historically diverse city.

Throughout the 10-year run of the show, the sitcom continued to whitewash New York City and rarely featured a character of color. “Friends” only introduced two recurring characters of color, both of whom were brought on as short-lived love interests for Ross.

Along with millions of other Americans, the 2020 murder of George Floyd pushed Kauffman to reckon with the country’s racist past and her own part in perpetuating systems of racism.

“I knew then I needed to course-correct,” she explained.

In an attempt to redeem herself, Kauffman pledged $4 million to her alma mater, Brandeis University, to fund an endowed chair in the school’s African and African American studies department, one of the oldest in the country.

The Marta F. Kauffman ’78 Professorship in African and African American Studies “will support a distinguished scholar with a concentration in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora” and “assist the 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,” the Waltham, Massachusetts-based university announced.

“It took me a long time to begin to understand how I internalized systemic racism,” Kauffman told Brandeis. “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.” 

Last year, “Friends: The Reunion” aired to honor the iconic show, its beloved characters and die-hard fans. The show faced renewed calls to address its glaring lack of diversity, but Kauffman didn’t feel it was appropriate.

“I don’t know how the two were related. And I also don’t know how we could have addressed it in that context of that reunion, going into all the things we did wrong. And there were others,” she told the LA Times.

Kauffman has spoken out in recent years about her regrets from the show telling the Hollywood Reporter ahead of the reunion that there are “probably a hundred things I would have done differently,” but clarified that the cast was not consciously chosen to be entirely white.

However, her co-creator Kevin Bright doubled down on his choices noting the “chemistry” between Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry.

“I would have been insane not to hire those six actors. What can I say? I wish Lisa was black?” he told the Hollywood Reporter.

Kauffman told the LA Times that she has received “nothing but love” since announcing the $4 million pledge along with “people acknowledging it was long overdue.”

“In this case, I’m finally, literally putting my money where my mouth is,” Kauffman said. “I feel I was finally able to make some difference in the conversation.”

“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. 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.”

This content was originally published here.

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