‘Friends’ Reunion Director Responds to Diversity Criticism

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Friends Reunion Director Ben Winston has responded to accusations that there was a lack of diversity in last month’s highly anticipated Friends Reunion episode.

The special, which premiered on HBO Max on May 27, was accused of ignoring the show’s long-criticized diversity problem.

After the trailer was dropped and the guest list was revealed, many noticed the lack of Black guest stars appearing. Guests included Cara Delevigne, David Beckham, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and surprisingly Malala Yousafzai. People had been previously astonished at the lack of established actors who had been on the show’s original run such as Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, and especially fan-favorite Paul Rudd.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past thirty years…

Friends followed the lives of six friends living in New York: Joey (Matt LeBlanc), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Chandler (Matthew Perry), Monica (Courtney Cox), Ross (David Schwimmer), and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). The show ran for a decade from 1994 and was a pioneer for sitcom television. Its finale episode in 2004 was one of the most-watched television episodes in history, with fifty-four million American viewers tuning in.
The reunion comes seventeen years after the finale episode and brings the original 6 cast members back to the set to discuss how the show changed the world. Directed by Ben Winston, the show featured games, interviews, and clips of the original cast acting out old scenes. We even finally found out that Jennifer Aniston agreed Rachel was on a break and her secret crushes on David Schwimmer.

Well in a new interview with the Times, published on Sunday, Winston stated that he believes those who have criticized the special for a lack of diversity haven’t actually seen it.

“We have Malala, Mindy Kaling, BTS,” Winston said. “There are 3 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?” he went on. “The cast is the cast. It was made in 1994. I think it’s remarkable how well it does stand the test of time.”

When asked about the lack of attendance by the very few Black cast members, such as Aisha Tyler, who played Joey and Ross’s girlfriend Charlie, Winston simply said “not everyone could join” the reunion.

“I’m really pleased with the show we were able to put together,” Winston concluded.

The lack of diversity within the entire show was something that has been criticized profusely since the reunion was announced in 2019. The severe lack of Black characters and the heteronormativity of all the central characters have been scrutinized by viewers.

Last week, the original Friends co-creators Kevin Bright and Marta Kauffman shared their feelings on the show’s diversity issue.
Speaking with the Hollywood Reporter, Bright admitted that while he did end up hiring all white actors for the leading roles, it was never his intention. Nevertheless, he said he has no regrets about the casting.
“There are different priorities today and so much has changed,” Bright said. “It’s important for today’s shows to be reflective of the ways society truly is.
“We didn’t intend to have an all-white cast,” he went on. “That was not the goal, either. Obviously, the chemistry between these six actors speaks for itself.
“What can I say?” he added. “I wish Lisa was Black? I’ve loved this cast. I loved the show and I loved the experience.”

​His co-creator, Marta Kauffman disagrees, stating that there were “probably a hundred things” she would change about the show in hindsight if she had the opportunity.

“There are many things that I could say if I only knew then what I know now. Back then, there was no conscious decision,” Kauffman told the Hollywood Reporter. “We saw people of every race, religion, color. These were the six people we cast. So, it was certainly not conscious.”
You can watch the Friends Reunion now on HBO Max.
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