“Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman is planning to atone for her crime of not having enough diversity on the hit NBC comedy series, she told the Los Angeles Times in an interview.
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman said in a Zoom interview with the publication. “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.”
“Friends” documented the lives of six single people living in New York City. The series, which ran for 10 seasons from 1994 until 2004, became a worldwide sensation and is considered one of the most successful comedies ever made. It boasts 62 Primetime Emmy Awards and a host of other awards and accolades.
While several of the recurring roles included black actors, the six main characters were all white. Kauffman regrets making this casting choice while still saying she’s happy that Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, and Matthew Perry were all part of the series.
“I would have been insane not to hire those six actors. What can I say? I wish Lisa was black?” she told The Hollywood Reporter prior to the reunion special airing.
Now Kauffman is pledging $4 million to her alma mater, Brandeis University. The money will be used for African American students specifically.
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 “help 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,” per the university.
“It took me a long time to begin to understand how I internalized systemic racism,” the alumna 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.”
Kauffman said the topic of diversity has been on her mind for some time.
“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 LA Times. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”
“What makes this truly emotional for me is that I want this connection I didn’t have,” she continued. “I deeply, deeply want this connection with the black community that I didn’t have. Because of ‘Friends,’ I never attained that.”
The “Friends” co-creator also confirmed that any future projects would include a more diverse cast.
“I feel I was finally able to make some difference in the conversation,” Kauffman told the publication. “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.”