Following backlash to “Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman’s recent remarks about the hit sitcom’s lack of diversity, Kauffman told TheWrap it was only in the last two weeks — amid the resurgence of #BlackLivesMatter protests in response to George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a police officer — that her eyes have been opened to how she perpetuated “systemic racism.”
“Look, I — and I’m going to try not to get emotional about this — the question that she asked is what do you wish you knew now as a showrunner? What do you wish you knew then that I know now. And what I have to say is, it’s something I learned in the past two weeks — and this is not just about ‘Friends,’ this is about my career — that I have not done enough to encourage black voices, to bring in black crew, to bring in black writers. I have not done enough,” Kauffman, who co-created “Friends” with David Krane, told TheWrap Wednesday.
During a virtual panel for the ATX Television Festival on Sunday, Kauffman was asked what she wishes she had known when she first started in her career that she knows now, responding: “I wish I knew then what I know today. I would make very different decisions.”
The “Grace & Frankie” co-creator said during the panel that while her production banner, Okay Goodnight, has “always encouraged people of diversity,” she “didn’t do enough” and thinks about what she could do differently now: “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.”
Kauffman’s statement drew criticism from some on social media, who asked how it was possible she didn’t know that “Friends” — which followed six white characters living in New York City and cast few minorities in major roles during its 10-season run on NBC from 1994-2004 — lacked diversity and if there was ever any consideration given to fixing that problem.
“I was part of systemic racism. I take full responsibility for that, that I was so ignorant that I didn’t see my behavior,” Kauffman told TheWrap. “I never thought of myself as a racist, you know. I thought I was this person who accepted everybody and believed in humanitarian things and humanism. I just, I missed it, I missed it. And now I look back and think I can’t live like that anymore, I can’t do that anymore. I have got to find a way to change how I reach out to people, how I find crew, how I find writers, how I find new voices without appropriating anything. I don’t think I’m the one to tell black stories, but I am the one to bring in black writers to write on my shows. I am the one to encourage finding black crew. And I apologize for my ignorance and hope I’ve truly learned from it and will behave differently.”
In terms of concrete steps toward change, Kauffman told TheWrap her production banner, Okay Goodnight, is looking for more diverse writers and staff.
“We’re doing all sorts of outreach to look for writers and to look for people who can work at our company starting at a lower level and growing into some of the bigger jobs, which we do anyway with everyone who works at our company,” she said. “Everybody starts at one place and moves up. The woman who was my assistant is now the head of development. So I hope that however we figure out a way to do this, besides the outreach– and people are reaching out to me, too, which I really appreciate. People are reaching out to me saying, ‘I’m a black transgender person who hasn’t had an opportunity to have my voice heard, will you read my script.’ And we are going to do that and we are going to be open to everything that comes our way.”