“Friends” creator Marta Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times that she’s so “embarrassed” by and feels such “guilt” over the lack of diversity on her classic NBC sitcom that she’s donating $4 million to create the Marta F. Kauffman ‘78 Professorship in African and African American Studies at Brandeis University. Kauffman said it was originally “difficult and frustrating” to have the show criticized for its lack of diverse characters, but she became critical herself after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
“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 said. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”
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All six main characters on “Friends” were white, and the show rarely featured actors of colors in prominent roles across 10 seasons and 236 episodes. The likes of Lauren Tom, Gabrielle Union, Mark Consuelos and Craig Robinson appeared on the show in small supporting roles, while Aisha Tyler, the most prominent actor of color featured on the series, only starred in nine episodes. Tyler played a paleontology professor who dated both Joey and Ross.
According to the LA Times, Kauffman’s $4 million African and African American studies program will “support a distinguished scholar with a concentration in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora. The gift will also 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.”
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman said. “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. ”
Kauffman said she’s “gotten nothing but love” since making the announcement, adding, “It’s been amazing. It surprised me to some extent, because I didn’t expect the news to go this wide. I’ve gotten a flood of emails and texts and posts that have been nothing but supportive. I’ve gotten a lot of ‘It’s about time.’ Not in a mean way. It’s just people acknowledging it was long overdue.”
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