Marta Kauffman, the co-creator of Friends, is donating $4 million to create the Marta F. Kauffman ‘78 Professorship in African and African American Studies at Brandeis University due to her “guilt” over the hit NBC sitcom’s lack of diversity.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Kauffman said, “I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years. Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”
Friends, whose six main characters were white, rarely featured actors of color in significant roles across its 10 seasons, despite being set in the diverse melting pot that is New York City. Aisha Tyler, the most prominent actor of color to star in the series, only appeared in nine episodes as paleontology professor Charlie.
Kauffman told the LA Times that, at first, it was “difficult and frustrating” accepting the criticism directed at the show’s diversity problems. However, after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, she became more critical of herself and the show.
“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,” the Emmy-winning writer explained. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”
Kauffman is now launching the African and African American studies program that, according to the LA Times, aims to “support a distinguished scholar with a concentration in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora.”
“I’ve gotten nothing but love,” Kauffman said in regards to the feedback she’s received since the announcement. “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.”
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