'Friends' co-creator Marta Kauffman on show's lack of diversity, $4M donation: 'I'm embarrassed'

"Friends" is a huge part of American pop culture, but the TV show's legacy hasn't been above reproach after many critics have brought attention to the sitcom's lack of diversity. Now, more than 25 years after it first aired, one of the show's creators is speaking out.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, "Friends" co-creator Marta Kauffman addressed the critique she's heard over the years, saying that "admitting and accepting guilt" about the show's perceived shortcomings was "not easy."

Part of the TV writer's plan to effect change includes a $4 million price tag after donating the money to her alma mater nine miles outside of Boston, Brandeis University, to establish an endowed professorship in the university's African American studies department.

"I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years," Kauffman said in the interview published Wednesday. "It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago."

Marta Kauffman says she's "embarrassed" by lack of diversity in "Friends" sitcom.
Marta Kauffman says she's "embarrassed" by lack of diversity in "Friends" sitcom.

In a statement to USA TODAY, Brandeis University president Ron Liebowitz considered Kauffman's donation "so meaningful" to the school's African American Studies Department and also to the university as a whole.

"We’re at a time in this country’s history where students are looking for opportunities to expand their intellectual and political horizons," professor of history and African and African American Studies Chad Williams also said in the statement. "Brandeis needs to embrace that and recognize there’s an opportunity to lead with our department at the forefront."

The NBC sitcom ran from 1994 until its last episode in 2004 and centered the camaraderie and romance between six friends living in New York City. The show's main characters were all white, but people of color were seen on screen occasionally in amall supporting roles, including Gabrielle Union, Lauren Tom and Aisha Tyler, who played love interests throughout the series' time on air.

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Kauffman, while initially rejecting the criticism, said her mindset shifted in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. 

"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."

Beyond the multi-million donationKauffman also said she'll also be taking her efforts to the entertainment industry.

"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," Kauffman said. "I want to know I will act differently from now on. And then I will feel unburdened.”

'I was well aware': David Schwimmer's comments on 'Friends' diversity – and 'Living Single' star Erika Alexander's response

Kauffman isn't the only person from the "Friends" production to talk about the backlash it's faced. David Schwimmer, who played Ross on the sitcom, said he pushed for diversity on set in an interview with The Guardian in 2020. Executive producer Kevin Bright told The Hollywood Reporter in 2021 that if they did the show today, "I don’t imagine they would probably end up being an all-white cast."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Friends' co-creator on sitcom's lack of diversity, Brandeis donation