TV sitcom creator friends She plans to donate $4 million to the African and African American Studies Project because she is so “embarrassed” – and feels such “guilt” about – the white homogeneity of the characters in the classic series.
Marta Kaufman told the Los Angeles Times She intends to receive her gift planned to fund the Marta F Kauffman ’78 Professor in African and African American Studies at her alma mater, Brandeis University, Massachusetts Liberal Arts College.
Kaufman said that at first it was “difficult and frustrating” seeing Friends criticized for its lack of diverse characters on a show that ran for 10 seasons after it premiered in 1994, according to The Times. The show has earned tens of millions of dollars in promotion and broadcasts for its creators and actors, including Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer.
After Netflix announced that it would be ditching the sitcom in 2019, Saul Austerlitz, who wrote Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Determined the television Era, Friends said occupied a central place in American pop culture.
“Yes, it’s a comedy series, but it’s also a TV series,” Austerlitz told The Times. “So you can watch it in order, or you can watch your favorite episodes.”
But after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in 2020, sparking protests over racial justice across the country, the Friends became the target of criticism. Many have wondered how the characters would appear in the ethnically diverse Upper West Side of Manhattan, without interacting with any residents or visitors of color.
When HBO aired last year Friends: reuniona diversity writer said in the LA Times that it wasn’t “a moment of celebration for everyone” and that it may have been translated: “The one they ignored diversity in — again.”
“At a time when the television landscape has become increasingly diverse and inclusive, it is inconvenient—if not entirely inappropriate—to raise a glass of sitcom that has been blind to the multiculturalism of the world in which it took place,” Note Greg Braxton.
Kaufman said she initially felt that Friends were unfairly discriminated against because of their racial and ethnic homogeneity, saying, “It was hard and frustrating.” But now she said she feels the criticism was fair.
“After what happened to George Floyd, I started wrestling with my purchase of systemic racism in ways I was never aware of,” Kaufman said. “That was the moment I started checking out the ways I was involved. I knew then that I needed a course correction.”
Kaufman said Friends’ lack of diversity illustrates how she internalized that systemic racism.
“I’ve learned a lot in the past 20 years,” she told The Times. “Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It hurts to look at yourself in the mirror. I feel embarrassed that I did not know better in 25 years.”
The colorful characters in Friends were largely fleeting. Schwimmer said in a 2020 interview that the lack of broader cultural representation was a “mistake” and described Ross’ character defense thus far as diverse women.
“I really felt like Ross had to date other people, women of all races,” Schwimmer said.
Professor Kaufman plans to establish within the Department of African American and African Studies at Brandeis to support scholarships on the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora.
Kaufman said she received messages of support after announcing her gift.
“I got a lot of, ‘It’s about time,'” she told The Times. ‘Not in a mean way — just people admitting it was long overdue.’
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