Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman confessed that she should have been more diligent in addressing the very white show's lack of diversity.
"I wish I knew then what I knew today, I would have made very different decisions," Kauffman said at the 2020 ATX TV From the Couch virtual panel, per the BBC. "I mean we've always encouraged people of diversity in our company, but I didn't do enough and now all I can think about is, what can I do? What can I do differently? How can I run my show in a new way? 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 co-created Grace and Frankie, Netflix's soon-to-be longest-running original series, where she's also showrunner.
Friends has long been criticized for its inaccurate depiction of New York, starting with its cast that featured a tight-knit circle of six white friends. According to IMDb, Aisha Tyler appeared in nine episodes, the most for a person of color in the series' 10-season run. The next closest is Phill Lewis, who played Chandler Bing's boss Steve in three episodes.
David Schwimmer told the Guardian in January that he pushed behind-the-scenes for more diverse casting, suggesting that his character Ross could date women of color. "I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color," Schwimmer said. "One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian-American woman, and later I dated African American women. That was a very conscious push on my part."
Ross dated Tyler's character, Charlie Wheeler.
Lisa Kudrow, who played Phoebe, acknowledged to the Sunday Times that a present-day version of Friends "would not be an all-white cast, for sure."
In 2017, JAY-Z visualized the concept of an all-black Friends cast for his "Moonlight" music video starring Tessa Thompson, Tiffany Haddish, Lil Rel Howery, Lakeith Stanfield, and Jerrod Carmichael.