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‘There Were Black Shows and There Were White Shows’: ‘Friends’ Co-creator Says the Show’s Lack of Diversity Was a ‘Product of the Time,’ Not a Deliberate Decision

One popular sitcom of the past, “Friends” continues to be a talking point when it comes to the show’s lack of diversity. In recent years, the show centering around six white friends based in New York has drawn criticism for having a successful 10-year run without ever bringing on any Black actors in a full-time capacity.

The show’s co-creator Marta Kauffman has previously apologized for “not doing enough” to promote diversity in her projects. But, at the same time, she has said that “Friends” was a representation of her and fellow creator David Krane’s shared experiences.

The cast of “Friends” came together in June 2021 for a special reunion. (Photo: @jenniferaniston/Instagram)

“It was, to a certain extent, a product of the time period,” said Kauffman. “There were Black shows and there were white shows. There wasn’t a lot of shows that were interracial.” The show aired from 1994 through 2004. During that time shows such as “Sister Sister,” “The Wayans Bros.,” “Ally Mcbeal,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” were each ratings winners.

At best, the show only sprinkled a few recurring roles for Black actresses such as Aisha Tyler and Sherri Shepherd. “Being Mary Jane” actress Gabrielle Union is also on that short list, however, she only appeared in a single episode during season seven.

Former “The View” host Shepherd enjoyed her time on the show, but said it was impossible not to acknowledge that she was the only person of color on set. 

“When you have a show set in New York — and I’ve lived in New York for nine years — and I always saw diversity. All the time. When you walk down the street, you got to be in a bubble not to see how inclusive New York City is,” she said. “It is one of the most inclusive, diverse cities I’ve ever been to. So that was a little bit hard to see a show where nobody looked like me.”

Tyler played the love interest of David Schwimmer’s character Ross. Her reappearing role as a girlfriend was groundbreaking for the show being that she is Black. “I knew it was something new for the show, and it was really important because, the fact of the matter was, it was a show set in Manhattan that was almost entirely Caucasian,” she noted. “It was an unrealistic representation of what the real world looked like.”

But Tyler’s being cast wasn’t pure coincidence, considering her role was not written for a women of any specific background. In fact, it was Schwimmer who pushed for color.

“I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of colour,” he told The Guardian. “One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian American woman, and later I dated African American women. That was a very conscious push on my part.”

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