Marta Kauffman, co-creator of Friends and Grace and Frankie, disclosed to the Los Angeles Times that she has donated $4 million to her alma school Brandeis University’s African and American Studies Department. She mentions in the interview that she feels “guilty” about Friends’ lack of diversity, prompting the endowment.
Kauffman states, “I have gained a great deal of knowledge over the past two decades.” “Accepting and admitting guilt is difficult. Looking at oneself in the mirror is agonizing. I’m ashamed that I didn’t know better twenty-five years ago.”
Kauffman says she thought about this after the George Floyd protests in June 2020, which made her think about how the cast of the 1990s sitcom didn’t have enough people of different races.
“After what happened to George Floyd, I started to think about how I had been a part of systemic racism in ways I didn’t know about,” Kauffman says. “That was really when I started to think about how I had taken part. I knew I had to change direction.”
The fact that Friends’ main characters are all white has been talked about a lot, especially now that the show is on streaming services and can be seen by more people. In the past few years, there have even been unofficial versions of the show with an all-black cast. On the 2020 show Zoom Where It Happens, Sterling K. Brown, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Aisha Hinds, Jeremy Pope, Uzo Aduba, and Kendrick Sampson read from an episode of Friends.
Aisha Tyler was the only well-known person of color in the original series. She played Charlie Wheeler in nine episodes. Whenever a person of color played a role on the show before Gabrielle Union, Lauren Tom, and Craig Robinson, they were usually given a smaller role.
With Kauffman’s $4 million, the Marta F. Kauffman ’78 Professorship will be set up. According to Brandeis University’s website, the donation will “support a distinguished scholar” in the African and African American Studies department and give the program more academic opportunities and money.