Friends may be a beloved sitcom, but it's far from perfect. The long-running show has received valid criticism over the years, particularly when it comes to a lack of racial diversity. In response to this criticism, particularly as anti-racism protests continue to take place all over the world, the Friends co-creator, Marta Kauffman, addressed the diversity issues that mark her career, and she said she wants to do things differently going forward.
The conversation surrounding Friends' lack of diversity isn't new, but it became especially apparent while the series was on Netflix from 2015 to 2019, when a younger, broader audience was able to watch it through a more modern lens. In addition to all six of the leads being white, there there were only two notable recurring characters played by people of color on the show: Ross' girlfriend Julie (played by Lauren Tom, who is Chinese-American), and the love interest of Ross and Joey, Dr. Charlie Wheeler (played by Aisha Tyler, who is Black).
During a 2020 ATX TV From the Couch virtual panel, Kauffman expressed regret for the lack of diversity in her past projects. “I wish I knew then what I know today,” she said, reportedly tearing up. “Sorry, I just wish I knew then what I know now. I would’ve made very different decisions.”
Kauffman also discussed her desire to better promote diversity now. "We’ve always encouraged people of diversity in our company, but I didn’t do enough, and now all I can think about is, 'What can I do? What can I do differently? How can I run my show in a new way?' And that’s something I not only wish I knew when I started showrunning, but I wish I knew all the way up through last year.”
Other Friends cast members have spoken out about the show's lack of diversity in recent months. “I was well aware of the lack of diversity," David Schwimmer told The Guardian in January. "I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color. 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."
Similarly, Lisa Kudrow agreed the show would look a lot different if it was made today. "It would not be an all-white cast, for sure," she said to UK publication The Times in May.
Friends aired from 1994 to 2004, so there's not much that can be done to retroactively fix the show's diversity issues now. But, those involved in creating the show can make changes going forward, like Kauffman said she would. At the end of the ATX panel, A Black Lady Sketch Show creator Robin Thede responded to Kauffman: "Now people know better, and when you know better, you do better, and that’s all that people are asking for.”