Lisa Kudrow on the lack of diversity in the cast of Friends
Ah, Friends. For some, it’s the greatest show of all time. For others, it’s just Office for geriatric millennials who started receiving AARP flyers in their late 20s. It is not a bastion of cultural diversity. Lily’s white cast of wealthy New York yuppies poking fun at the ‘naked ugly guy’ next door didn’t paint a realistic picture of city life in the 90s, with characters walking around saying things like “could you be whiter” and “How are you, my white colleague”.
The show’s lack of diversity has been a blot on the show’s legacy during Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman, who realized in 2020 that vanilla Friend group could have been a bit gross. “It was after what happened to George Floyd that I started to struggle with the fact that I had bought into systemic racism in a way that I was never aware of,” Kauffman told the Los Angeles Time. “It was really the moment when I started to examine the ways in which I had participated. I knew then that I had to correct my trajectory.
Friends Star Lisa Kudrow thinks the show’s creators were right to avoid telling stories about people of color because they “didn’t have to tell” those stories. “I feel like it was a show created by two people who went to Brandeis and wrote about their life after college,” Kudrow said. The daily beast. “When it comes to character-driven comedy, you write what you know. They have nothing to do with writing stories about the experiences of being a person of color. At the time, the big issue I saw was, ‘Where’s the learning?’ Kudrow previously conceded that if the show was produced today, ‘it wouldn’t be an all-white cast, it’s sure.”
And don’t write about people of color they made. There are so many black people in Friends‘New York that BuzzFeed listed all 27 of them last year. And what a list it is. First, there’s Aisha Tyler, who played the longest-serving black character on the show (nine episodes), Charlie Wheeler. But who could forget secondary characters as hilarious as “Man”, “Teacher”, “Kid” (played by the famous smart guy Tahj Mowry), “Kid Looking at Chandler,” and fan-favorite “Knockers,” which BuzzFeed described as [sigh] “A black woman uses her big breasts to determine if the man in front of her is gay or not.” Essential television, indeed.
Kudrow is right that no one wants to see or hear what the “Smelly Cat” songwriters have to say about race in America. However, Kudrow is unaware that in the 236 episodes of Friendsthe creators didn’t think to hire a few more people who could write stories about experiences of being a person of color. Unfortunately, the Friends the writers’ room was not a particularly welcoming place.
At the beginning of the 2000’s, as reported by HustleAmaani Lyle, who nearly became the first and only A black writer with creative credit on the show, Warner Bros. sued. for alleged sexual and racist harassment in the Friends writers room.
In 2018, Lyle said BuzzFeed:
They’ve perverted this case into something like a bullying tactic, kind of a scare tactic in a very mafia-like way to silence employees and not foster an open and transparent work environment. At some point they’re going to have to take responsibility and realize that they propel the systemic issues that keep those issues alive and give them bandwidth and oxygen. They are the ones doing this.
I tried to complain [Warner Bros.] and make them accountable. I lost and was ready to move on and let it go and let things evolve as they will, but [decades later] Hollywood imploded on itself, and it had very little to do with me or my case. There were a lot of very visible people, leading actresses who were now talking about being victims, and people cared more about that. They didn’t care when it was just some nameless girl living in Hollywood.
We have all the optics without actually changing things organically and systemically, we’re not going to move the ball down the field. You can’t have campaigns like #MeToo and Time’s Up if you keep scaring people with my case.
In recent years, Kauffman has denounced his earlier view of race in the writers’ room. “I’ve learned a lot over the past 20 years,” she says. “Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It’s painful to look at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I don’t know better 25 years ago. Kauffman also donated $4 million to Brandeis’ African and African American Studies programs.