'Friends' Co-Creator Says She's Now 'Embarrassed' by Lack of Diversity in Hit Show

"I've learned a lot in the last 20 years," Marta Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday

Friends cast. Photo: JON RAGEL/NBC

Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman has pledged $4 million to the African and African American Studies department of Brandeis University in response to criticism of the show's lack of diversity.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Kauffman, 65, opened up about why she made the pledge and how she now feels guilty about the lack of diversity on the hit sitcom which ran from 1994 to 2004.

"I've learned a lot in the last 20 years," Kauffman told the outlet. "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."

Kauffman, who initially couldn't understand the issue fans had with the lack of diversity in Friends, now agrees with them, saying the criticisms are "fair."

For her, the turning point occurred in the aftermath of the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which prompted worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.

"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 told the LA Times. "That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct."

Marta Kauffman
Marta Kauffman. JC Olivera/FilmMagic

To enable this, Kauffman made the decision to pledge $4 million to her alma mater, Brandeis University in Boston, to support an endowed professorship in the school's African and African American Studies department.

Her hope is that the donation will help the department to hire more expert scholars and teachers, and provide new opportunities for academic studies and research.

"In this case, I'm finally, literally putting my money where my mouth is," she told the LA Times.

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The response, she added to the outlet, has been "amazing."

"I've gotten nothing but love," she continued. "I've gotten a flood of emails and texts and posts that have been nothing but supportive."

Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane
Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane. John Lamparski/Getty

"I feel I was finally able to make some difference in the conversation," Kauffman added to the LA Times. "I have to say, after agreeing to this and when I stopped sweating, it didn't unburden me, but it lifted me up.

"I want to make sure from now on in every production I do that I am conscious in hiring people of color and actively pursue young writers of color."

Last year, Kauffman and fellow creator David Crane, and director and executive producer Kevin Bright spoke to The Hollywood Reporter and acknowledged that if the series were made today, the racial makeup of its six main stars would be different.

"If we did Friends today, no, I don't imagine they would probably end up being an all-white cast," Bright, 67, said in the piece, which came on the heels of the Friends reunion special on HBO Max.

Jennifer Aniston Friends reunion
Jennifer Aniston and the Friends reunion. Jennifer Aniston/Instagram

"We would be so aware," he added. "So much would change, but to get them to behave realistically within this time, there would be a lot that would change about them. And the racial makeup of them would change because of that."

Both Kauffman and Bright insisted that casting a group of white actors wasn't the plan, however.

"We didn't intend to have an all-white cast. That was not the goal, either," Bright explained. "Obviously, the chemistry between these six actors speaks for itself."

"Back then, there was no conscious decision," said Kauffman about the casting of Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer as six twentysomethings living in New York.

"We saw people of every race, religion, color. These were the six people we cast. So, it was certainly not conscious. And it wasn't because it was literally based on people, because it wasn't literal. You get an inspiration for someone, you write what you think their voice is going to be, but it wasn't literal."

Kauffman did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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