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‘You Chose to Ignore It’: ‘Friends’ Co-creator Sparks Debate After She Apologizes for Show’s Lack of Diversity and Pledges $4 Million to African-American Studies

Television producer Marta Kauffman, who co-created the popular comedy series “Friends” — which over the years has been dubbed the “white version of Living Single” — says she’s “embarrassed” and now understands the complaints behind the show’s lack of diversity. In an apparent effort to right the wrongs of the show’s way, the Hollywood executive is pledging $4 million to her old college for students studying Africa and the African diaspora.

During a zoom interview with the Los Angeles Times, the veteran writer apologized, telling reporters that initially, she felt that criticisms toward the show’s lack of Black or POC actors were unfairly given, but said she’s “learned a lot in the last 20 years.” 

You Chose to Ignore It': 'Friends' Co-creator Sparks Debate After She Apologizes for Show's Lack of Diversity and Pledges  Million to African-American Studies
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA – MAY 26: Writer Marta Kauffman attends Netflix’s “Grace & Frankie” Q&A screening event at Pacific Design Center on May 26, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

“Friends,” which Kauffman co-created with longtime friend David Crane, grew into a cult following as it ran from 1994 to 2004. The series starred actors Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer, all of whom are white. The show lasted 10 seasons. 

“Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy,” Kauffman told the outlet. “It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.” The industry veteran shared that her revelation came full force following the murder of George Floyd. 

“It was after what happened to George Floyd that I began to wrestle with my having bought into systemic racism in ways I was never aware of,” Kauffman said. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”

Kauffman revealed that her newfound understanding pushed her to pledge $4 million to her alma mater, Brandeis University, in Boston. The program will “support a distinguished scholar with a concentration in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora,” Variety reported.

It continued, “The gift will also assist the department to recruit more expert scholars and teachers, map long-term academic and research priorities and provide new opportunities for students to engage in interdisciplinary scholarship.”

“It took me a long time to begin to understand how I internalized systemic racism,” she said in a statement to the school. “I’ve been working really hard to become an ally, an anti-racist. And this seemed to me to be a way that I could participate in the conversation from a White woman’s perspective.”

Kauffman said the announcement was positively received and that she’s “gotten nothing but love.” She added “It’s been amazing. It surprised me to some extent because I didn’t expect the news to go this wide. I’ve gotten a flood of emails and texts, and posts that have been nothing but supportive. I’ve gotten a lot of ‘It’s about time.’ Not in a mean way. It’s just people acknowledging it was long overdue.”

Critics also shared their thoughts on Kauffman’s newfound perspective, including one Twitter user who wrote, “Well, at least she admits it… finally.” 

Another person wasn’t here for her apology in the slightest. “mam, with all due respect: you did know, you heard the feedback, you read the blog posts and reviews in the paper. you chose to ignore it and act like Living Single didn’t provide your show with a roadmap. you can save your lip service.”

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