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Friends' Creator Donates Millions After Admitting She's 'Embarrassed' By Show's Lack Of Diversity

Friends' Creator Donates Millions After Admitting She's 'Embarrassed' By Show's Lack Of Diversity
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Friends is one of the most iconic sitcoms in television history, and its popularity has endured even among young people who weren't yet born when the show aired thanks to streaming.

But as beloved as the show has continued to be, one criticism has continued to plague it--the show's shocking lack of diversity, which is noticeably pronounced even by 1990s standards.

Despite taking place in New York City, one of the most diverse cities on Earth, people of color were nearly invisible, barely appearing at all during the show's 10-year run, even among its extras.

One of the show's co-creators, Marta Kauffman, is attempting to offset that legacy. Kauffman announced that she will be making a multi-million dollar donation to fund the African American Studies department at her alma mater, a move people are cheering.

Kauffman, who co-created and served as showrunner on the show along with her collaborator David Crane, has previously chalked the issue up to the fact that in the show's mid-90s and early-2000s tenure, diversity and inclusion just weren't really on most white people's radar.

In CNN's History of the Sitcom last year, of Friends' lack of diversity Kauffamn said:

"It was, to a certain extent, a product of the time period and of my own ignorance."
"There were Black shows and there were white shows. There weren't a lot of shows that were interracial."

While that's certainly true of 90s television, times have changed. And in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Kauffman said the 2020 murder of George Floyd caused her to rethink things after it expanded her understanding of structural racism.

She told the Times:

"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."
"That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct."

That course correction comes in the form of a $4 million donation to the African American Studies program at her alma mater Brandeis University, one of the nation's oldest such departments in the country.

It's a step forward in off-setting the show's nearly total lack of non-white characters, a feature of the show Kauffman says she is now "embarrassed" by. She told the Times:

"I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years... I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago."

On Twitter, many applauded Kauffman's effort.

Others felt Kauffman's move was too little, too late.

Kauffman's donation will go towards expanding Brandeis' African-American studies department and will include a new professorship and a role for a distinguished scholar, moves university officials said will make Brandeis a national leader in the field.