Marta Kauffman, co-creator of Friends and Grace And Frankie, revealed to the Los Angeles Times that she’s donated $4 million to the African and American Studies Department at Brandeis University—her alma mater. The endowment comes as she discusses, in the interview, feeling “guilt” due to Friends lack of diversity.
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman says. “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 says her reflection came after the George Floyd protests in June 2020, which caused her to re-evaluate the lack of diversity in the ‘90s sitcom’s cast.
“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 says. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”
The discussion of Friends’ all-white main cast has been ongoing, especially as the series has been added to streaming services for a new audience to experience. In recent years, there have even been unofficial versions of the sitcom with an all-black cast. In 2020's Zoom Where It Happens, there was a reading of an episode that featured Sterling K. Brown, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Aisha Hinds, Jeremy Pope, Uzo Aduba, and Kendrick Sampson as the close-knit Friends group.
In the original series, Aisha Tyler was the only prominent actor of color; she played Charlie Wheeler in nine episodes on the show. Any other time that an actor of color appeared on the series, they were often relegated to a more supporting character spot like with Gabrielle Union, Lauren Tom, and Craig Robinson.
Kauffman’s $4 million will go towards creating the Marta F. Kauffman ‘78 Professorship. According to Brandeis University’s website, the donation will help “support a distinguished scholar” within the African and African American Studies department and allow for more academic opportunities and funds for the program.