Though it’s one of the most well-received sitcoms in TV history, NBC’s Friends has been longed criticized for its lack of diversity—a strikingly unrealistic detail for a show that is set in one of the biggest melting pots in the world: New York City.
That criticism was reignited last month following the premiere of the much-anticipated Friends reunion on HBO Max. The special featured the show’s six main cast members—Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer—as well as the team behind the series, celebrity fans, and a handful of actors who played secondary characters. But noticeably absent from the special was the small number of Black actors who landed guest roles on the long-running sitcom.
Where was Aisha Tyler? Garbielle Union? Janet Hubert? Well, according to the reunion’s director Ben Winston, some of those actors simply weren’t available.
“Not everyone could join us,” he told The Sunday Times. “But I’m really pleased with the show we were able to put together.”
The 39-year-old producer said he was well aware of the criticism surrounding the special’s so-called lack of diversity, but insisted the reunion was adequately inclusive.
“We have Malala, Mindy Kaling, BTS,” Winston said. “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.”
Kevin Bright, a Friends executive producer and director, touched on the show’s diversity issue in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, insisting he had no regrets over the casting decisions.
“No. I don’t have any regrets other than hindsight,” he said. “I would have been insane not to hire those six actors. What can I say? I wish Lisa was Black? I’ve loved this cast. I loved the show and I loved the experience. I know [co-creator Marta Kauffman] has a different feeling about it. I think it affects us all.”