Fans of the popular sitcom “Friends” were treated last month to a reunion special, years in the making. And like with most gatherings, a trip down memory lane sure took place. The show’s co-creator Marta Kauffman opened up about several things, including the lack of diversity on the show’s 6-person lead cast—all of whom are white—and other creative regrets.
The reunion, however, also made way for an old clip of Gabrielle Union to resurface the internet. In it, the “Bring It On” star detailed some of her not-so-pleasant experiences as a Black actress in Hollywood working in a white-dominated space, using her time as a guest star on “Friends” during season 7 as an example.
The 60-second clip appeared to be ripped from a larger interview the 48-year-old star did with Free Library of Philadelphia while on a press run for her 2017 book “We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True.” Union read parts from her book as she also detailed how some Hollywood bigwigs would talk to her as if she were a rookie and not as someone who already established a solid place in the industry.
The part in particular starts while Union is in mid-conversation, stating, “That dual consciousness though is what prepares me to then do an episode of ‘Friends’ after being on ‘City of Angels.’ When they’re like, ‘Nikki or Gabby, do you know what a mark is?’ Yeah, I’m an actor. Didn’t have to audition for this job, because I was just on a hit show on CBS.”
She continued, “But the man talked to me in sing-song voice the whole week. But, I’ve been there. … ‘Do Buckwheat. We love it when you entertain us. That’s where we’re most comfortable. Assimilate, disappear, be complacent. Where you’re nice and safe.’”
The clip cuts off just as the “Bad Boys 2” actress was about to begin another thought. However, it was enough to get a conversation online started. Many were shocked to hear that Union experienced given her place in Hollywood, but not all shared the same feelings. One Twitter user wrote, “They disrespected GABRIELLE UNION??? Yet another reason why Friends is bad, and if you like Friends please understand that I respect you less.”
“Gabrielle Union’s experience on Friends was horrible and a racist and insulting one, and people are still watching it and defending that show,” said a second user.
Union’s video caused viewers to share some aspects of the show that didn’t sit well with them either, like one person who commented, “I liked Friends, but I did notice subliminal messages, that seemed racist.” They added, “Gabrielle Union was on one episode of Friends. Her character was pursued by Ross and Joey. At one point, all three were at a restaurant. The guys were arguing over her. Then the men argued about a monkey.”
A fourth wrote, “After watching that video of gabrielle union talking about her experience on the set of “friends,” can’t nobody convince me that they purposely made an all white cast for that show.” In another post, they added, “It’s not even realistic like i’m sorry to break to ya but there were and still are poc who live in Manhattan.”
Actress Aisha Tyler was the first Black actor to have a recurring role on “Friends.” She played Charlie Wheeler, the girlfriend of Ross Geller, played by David Schwimmer. In interviews Schwimmer said he was aware of the diversity issue and often pushed to have his character date women of color.
Speaking on the series, co-creator Kauffman told The Hollywood Reporter that they didn’t purposely make the cast “all-white and heteronormative,” and looking back, “There are probably a hundred things I would have done differently.” He added, “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.”