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‘Friends’ co-creator Martha Kaufman apologizes for lack of black characters on hit sitcom

Friends co-creator Martha Kaufman has once again apologized for the lack of black characters in the legendary New York sitcom.
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Friends co-creator Martha Kaufman has once again apologized for the lack of black characters in the legendary New York sitcom.

In response to the show’s lack of diversity, Kaufman pledged $4 million to her alma mater, Brandeis University in Boston, to create a professorship in the university’s department of African and African American studies.

Kaufman, 65, who co-created the NBC sitcom with David Crane, said she was “embarrassed” that Friends was dominated by white actors.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kaufman told the LA Times. “Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It hurts to look at myself in the mirror.

“I’m ashamed that I didn’t know anything 25 years ago.”

While Friends is arguably one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, running for 10 seasons from 1994 to 2004, the show’s lack of variety has always been something it’s been criticized for.

Friends co-creator Martha Kaufman has once again apologized for the lack of black characters in the legendary New York sitcom.

Kaufman, 65, who co-created the NBC sitcom with David Crane, said she was

Kaufman, 65, who co-created the NBC sitcom with David Crane, said she was “embarrassed” that Friends was dominated by white actors.

The show ran until 2002 to cast Aisha Tyler, the first black actress to become a series regular, as Dr. Charlie Wheeler, a paleontology professor who dated Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) in the ninth season. But it only lasted nine episodes.

Kaufman said she regretted that the six main characters were all white, but was still glad that Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry were part of the series.

“I would be crazy if I didn’t hire these six actors. What can I say? Would I like Lisa to be black? Kaufman told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the Friends: Reunion special airing.

But now Kaufman is pledging $4 million to Brandeis University to advance the study of African American studies.

Martha F. Kaufman ’78 Professor of African Studies and African American Studies will support a distinguished scholar specializing in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora.

The donation will also help the department re-The university said it will attract more experienced scholars and faculty, set long-term academic and research priorities, and provide new opportunities for students to participate in interdisciplinary scholarship.

“It took me a long time to figure out how I internalized systemic racism,” Kaufman told Brandeis. “I worked very hard to become an ally, an anti-racist. And it seemed to me that this was a way to take part in the conversation from the point of view of a white woman.

The show ran until 2002 to cast Aisha Tyler, the first black actress to become a series regular, as Dr. Charlie Wheeler, a paleontology professor who dated Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) in the ninth season.  But she only lasted nine episodes.

The show ran until 2002 to cast Aisha Tyler, the first black actress to become a series regular, as Dr. Charlie Wheeler, a paleontology professor who dated Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) in the ninth season. But she only lasted nine episodes.

After the donation was announced, Kaufman told the Los Angeles Times, “I got nothing but love. It was amazing. This surprised me to some extent, because I did not expect the news to spread so widely.

“I received a flood of emails, texts and posts that were nothing but support. I got a lot of “It’s time”. Not mean. It’s just that people recognized that it was long overdue.”

During the release of Friends: Reunion, which was criticized for dodging the problem of a lack of diverse roles, Kaufman’s view of diversity began to change.

“It was after what happened with George Floyd that I began to struggle with being addicted to systemic racism in ways that I never knew existed,” Kaufman told the LA Times.

“That was really the moment I started to explore ways to get involved. Then I realized that I needed to correct course.

Pictured: (clockwise from left) Courteney Cox as Monica Geller, Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing, David Schwimmer as Ross Geller, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani and Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay

Pictured: (clockwise from left) Courteney Cox as Monica Geller, Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing, David Schwimmer as Ross Geller, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani and Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay

It happens after Schwimmer, who played Ross on the hit show, said: The keeper in an interview in 2019, he always insisted on diversity on Friends.

“I was well aware of the lack of diversity and have advocated for years for Ross to date women of color,” Schwimmer said.

“One of my first girlfriends on the show was an Asian American, and later I dated African American women. It was a very conscious push on my part.”

The show ran until 2002 to cast Aisha Tyler, the first black actress to become a series regular, playing Dr. Charlie Wheeler, a paleontology professor who ends up dating Ross in the ninth season.

The realization that the show lacked black characters was hard at times. Kaufman broke down in 2020, admitting she didn’t do enough to promote diversity on her hit NBC sitcom.

During the ATX 2020 Virtual TV Festival, Kaufman was asked what she “wished to know” about when she started her career in television.

The writer/producer burst into tears and heartbreak, stating, “I wish I knew then what I know today.”

“What makes it really emotional for me is that I want this connection that I didn’t have,” she said. “I really, really want to have this connection to the black community that I didn’t have. Because of Friends, I never got there.”

“Sorry, I just wish I knew then what I know now. I would have made very different decisions,” added Kaufman, referring to the lack of diversity in the series, for which he was often criticized.

“I mean, we’ve always encouraged diversity in our company, but I haven’t done enough and now all I can think about is what can I do?” she added.

‘What can I do differently? How can I host my show in a new way? And that’s something I not only wish I knew when I started showrunning, but I’ve wished I had known this for the past year,” Kaufman said.

Friends has been criticized for its lack of variety in the series.

Friends has been criticized for its lack of variety in the series.

The Brandeis Department of African and African American Studies was founded in 1969 and is one of the oldest such departments in the country.

Chad Williams, professor of history and African American studies at Samuel J. and Augusta Spector University, said the new professorship will place Brandeis in a leadership role in the broader academic community and public sphere.

“We are at a time in this country’s history when students are looking for opportunities to broaden their intellectual and political horizons and are looking for places where they can articulate what it means to be a young person in a time of incredible change and upheaval. especially when it comes to race,” he said.

“Brandeis needs to accept this and realize that there is an opportunity to lead the work of our department.”

Kaufman also confirmed that any future projects will feature a more diverse cast.

“I feel like I’ve finally been able to make a difference in the conversation,” Kaufman told the LA Times.

“I must say that after I agreed to this and when I stopped sweating, it did not relieve me, but lifted me. But until my next play I can get it right, it’s not over yet.

“From now on, I want to make sure that in every production I do, I consciously employ people of color and actively pursue young writers of color. I want to know that now I will act differently. And then I will feel unburdened.”

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