Friends creators on show's lack of diversity: 'We didn't intend to have an all-white cast'

Published on May 29, 2021 07:52 PM IST

In a recent interview, the makers of Friends agreed that if the series were made today, the racial makeup of its six main stars would be different.

American sitcom Friends aired from 1994 to 2004.
American sitcom Friends aired from 1994 to 2004.

The creators and executive producers of the iconic sitcom Friends have strong feelings about the show's lack of diversity. They opened up about the criticism levelled at the show for its lack of diversity, seemingly revealing a difference of opinion between those behind the cameras.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Hollywood Reporter, series creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane, and director and executive producer Kevin Bright, acknowledged that if the series were made today, the racial makeup of its six main stars would be different.

"If we did Friends today, no, I don't imagine they would probably end up being an all-white cast," Kevin Bright said in the piece, which came on the heels of the Friends reunion special on HBO Max.

"We would be so aware," he added. "So much would change, but to get them to behave realistically within this time, there would be a lot that would change about them. And the racial makeup of them would change because of that."

Moments from FRIENDS reunion episode.
Moments from FRIENDS reunion episode.

Friends, which starred Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer as six twenty-somethings living in New York, has received criticism in the past for its all-white, heteronormative cast.

Both Marta Kauffman and Kevin Bright insisted they casting a group of white actors wasn't the plan.

"We didn't intend to have an all-white cast. That was not the goal, either. Obviously, the chemistry between these six actors speaks for itself," Kevin Bright explained.

Marta Kauffman said, "Back then, there was no conscious decision. We saw people of every race, religion, color. These were the six people we cast. So, it was certainly not conscious. And it wasn't because it was literally based on people, because it wasn't literal. You get an inspiration for someone, you write what you think their voice is going to be, but it wasn't literal."

When asked if they would have done anything differently when making the series, Marta Kauffman said, "there are probably a hundred things I would have done differently."

"I've talked about it in the past and I do have very strong feelings about my participation in a system, but it comes down to I didn't know what I didn't know," she said.

Kevin Bright said he didn't have any regrets "other than hindsight."

"I would have been insane not to hire those six actors," he explained. "What can I say? 'I wish Lisa was Black?' I've loved this cast. I loved the show and I loved the experience. I know Marta has a different feeling about it. I think it affects us all."

"It's important for today's shows to be reflective of the ways society truly is. But for our experience, the three of us, that may have been our experience when we were young and in New York," Kevin Bright also said.

The image shows the whole cast of the popular sitcom Friends on the Amul doodle.(Instagram/@amul_india)
The image shows the whole cast of the popular sitcom Friends on the Amul doodle.(Instagram/@amul_india)

Premiering in 1994, the show's first Black actor to have a speaking role didn't appear until Gabrielle Union's guest spot in one season 7 episode. Aisha Tyler joined the cast as Dr Charlie Wheeler in 2003, becoming the show's first Black actor with a recurring role.

Aisha Tyler spoke to InStyle in 2018 about her role on the series, saying that her casting "was a milestone for the show. As an actor, that was the biggest show on TV at the time, so it was a milestone."

"Well, I think it was a pivotal moment for the show in regards to race, in terms of having a character of color that had some durability, and stuck around a while, but what was interesting was that they didn't really make a meal of it," Tyler said at the time.

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She further said, "The role wasn't written as a woman of color, and when I auditioned, I read against women of every ethnic background. I think why it worked was that they didn't make it into a 'very special episode of Friends' where the friends suddenly confront issues of race, or try to somehow counterbalance the previous eight seasons' relative lack of diversity."

"I was just a character on the show, with her own appeal and quirks and foibles, and I think that's why it worked so well," Aisha Tyler added.

Friends originally aired for 10 seasons on NBC from 1994 to 2004. The beloved sitcom followed the story of six friends in their 20s and 30s who live in Manhattan, New York City.

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