Friends Reunion Director Responds to Diversity Backlash

Friends reunion director Ben Winston addressed diversity backlash after the show’s black actors did not make an appearance on the special currently streaming on HBO Max. This one-off event which brought together the main Friends cast to discuss their favorite moments, re-enact scenes, and take questions from the in-studio audience, was criticized for not featuring key Black actors who appeared in guest-starring roles during its decade-long run.

Diversity issues have long plagued the comedy series, whose stars David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, and Matt LeBlanc were all white. Although the show did introduce characters of color throughout the series including Ross’s girlfriend Julie (Lauren Tom) in season 2 and Charlie (Aisha Tyler) in seasons 9 and 10, these guest-starring roles never became permanent additions and did not penetrate the central storylines of the six central Friends characters.

Winston suggested in an interview with The Times that those who have criticized the show for diversity issues in the reunion had not seen the episode.

“We have Malala, Mindy Kaling, BTS [the South Korean boy band]. There are three women from Ghana, one who talks about how Friends saved her life. Two boys from Kenya. Three kids in India. What more diversity do they want in this reunion? The cast is the cast. It was made in 1994. I think it’s remarkable how well it does stand the test of time.”

Diversity issues have long plagued the beloved series, which featured six white friends as they navigated adulthood in New York City. Friends creator Marta Kauffman addressed what critics have felt were flaws in the casting of the series and admitted she did not do enough to promote diversity. Series star David Schwimmer also advocated for a Friends reboot with an all-Black or Asian cast and revealed that he was the one who campaigned to have Ross date women of color. Despite these issues, Friends had an impact on all types of people. During a pivotal part of the reunion special, men and women of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community were featured as they spoke of how watching the series changed their lives for the better. These included activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who revealed her best friend introduced her to the show. The global reach of the show was also featured, as a montage of people saying Friends sound bites from their locations.

In defense of the special, the show did reach out to many former Friends guest-stars who could not make it due to scheduling difficulties. There was also the amount of time devoted to the reunion, just under two hours, which for devoted fans was just not enough time to delve into the history of the show and allow for personal interplay between the actors. The addition of hundreds of guest-starring actors throughout the series’ ten-year run would have needed an additional special of its own. At the reunion, the central focus of Friends had to be about the six cast members who continue to influence fans socially to this day.

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