Wracked with guilt over the hit show’s lack of diversity, a co-creator of the 90s sitcom ‘Friends’, Marta Kauffman, has pledged $4 million to the African and African American Studies department of Brandeis University, she revealed on Wednesday. The money will support an endowed professorship at the Boston school.
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times, admitting she was initially baffled and irritated regarding criticism of the sitcom, which features six white-presenting 20-somethings living in New York City during the 1990s. “Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror.”
Kauffman appears to have changed her mind following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, which kicked off a summer of intense and often violent protests against racism under the banner of Black Lives Matter. “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,” she told the outlet. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”
While the former showrunner said she was relieved she was “finally able to make some difference in the conversation,” she has also acknowledged “it isn’t over” and declared she would ensure that “from now on in every production I do that I am conscious in hiring people of color and actively pursue young writers of color.”
Kauffman, who described her donation to her alma mater as “putting my money where my mouth is,” said that her donation had been met with an “amazing” response. “I’ve gotten nothing but love,” she said, describing a “flood of emails and texts and posts that have been nothing but supportive.”
Despite the show’s overwhelmingly white representation, Manhattan, where the characters lived, worked, and played, was between 46% and 49% white during the show’s run from 1994 to 2004, while the city as a whole went from 43% white in 1990 to just 35% white in 2000.
A black fan of the series claimed to have counted every single black character to appear during its decade-long run, coming up with just 27 individuals – most of whom never got names, with the writer describing them as “the dancing girl” or “Mattress King delivery guy.”
Kauffman, co-creator David Crane, and director Kevin Bright told the Hollywood Reporter last year that they didn’t intend to have an “all-white cast” when they first populated the series, insisting they “saw people of every race, religion, color.”