Friends co-creator Marta Kauffmann has donated $4 million to create the Marta F. Kauffman ’78 Chair in African and African American Studies at Brandeis University due to her “guilt” over FRIENDS’ lack of diversity.
I’ve learnt a lot in the previous 20 years, Kauffman remarked in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. It’s difficult to acknowledge and accept responsibility. Seeing oneself in the mirror hurts. I’m ashamed I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”
Despite being located in the multicultural melting pot that is New York City, Friends, which had six white main characters, hardly ever had performers of colour in prominent roles during its ten seasons. The series’ most well-known performer of colour, Aisha Tyler, as palaeontology professor Charlie in just nine episodes.
According to Kauffman, it was “tough and disheartening” at first to absorb the criticism directed at the show’s diversity concerns. However, she started to criticise both herself and the show more after George Floyd’s death in 2020.
“It was after what happened to George Floyd that I began to struggle with having bought into systemic racism in ways I never realized,” the Emmy-winning writer explained. “That was really the moment when I started to examine the ways that he had been involved. So I knew I needed to course correct.”
Kauffman is now launching the African and Black American Studies program which, according to the Los Angeles Times, aims to “support a distinguished scholar with a concentration in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora.”
Regarding the feedback she has had since making the announcement, Kauffman stated, “I have only received love.” “It has been incredible. I was surprised to a certain extent because I did not expect the news to be so wide. I have received an outpouring of emails, texts, and posts that have been nothing but supportive. I’ve gotten a lot of ‘It’s about time’. Not in a bad way. It’s just people acknowledging that it was long overdue.”