Friends Creator, Embarrassed Over Show’s Lack of Diversity, Pledges $4 Million to African Studies Program

The One With a Charity Pledge: “Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman announced a $4 million donation to her alma mater Brandeis University to establish a fund to support scholars studying Africa and the African diaspora.

Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times that she feels “embarrassed” over the lack of diversity in the hit ’90s sitcom “Friends” which ran for 10 seasons and centered on six straight, white singles in New York City. The most prominent person of color cast on the series was Aisha Tyler, who portrayed the love interest of Ross (David Schimmer) for nine episodes.

Kauffman, who created the series with David Crane, revealed that she originally thought the criticism over a lack of representation was “difficult and frustrating,” but the events of 2020, namely the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police force, shed new light on her understanding of the series.

“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.”

“Friends” ran from 1994 to 2004 and starred Schimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, and Matt LeBlanc as the core friend group. Kauffman added, “I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years. 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.”

To “course-correct,” as Kauffman put it, she is pledging $4 million to Brandeis University to establish the Marta F. Kauffman ’78 Professorship in African and African American Studies. The fund will support a scholar studying Africa and the African diaspora and assist the department to recruit more expert scholars and teachers, as well as provide new opportunities for existing students.

“I feel I was finally able to make some difference in the conversation,” Kauffman continued. “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.”

Following “Friends,” Kauffman wrote and produced spinoff “Joey,” “Friends: The Reunion,” and the Netflix hit series “Grace and Frankie.”

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