How ‘Friends’ Star David Schwimmer Pushed for Diversity on the Iconic Sitcom

Friends remains as popular as ever, with a reunion show reportedly in the works. That said, there always seems to be an asterisk attached to that popularity. The Internet is filled with think pieces about how the show is problematic in current times.

Some have an issue with the transphobic jokes while others say the sitcom was revolutionary in even having a storyline with a transgender character. Others point out the lack of diversity — or what people “Friends so white.”

Not only were all main cast members Caucasian, their dating life was racially homogenous as well. However, David Schwimmer, who played Ross Gellar on the series, said he pushed for diversity while the show was still on air.

Why is ‘Friends’ considered problematic?

David Schwimmer
David Schwimmer | Noam Galai/Getty Images for AMC

Friends ran for ten seasons on NBC, with TV Guide readers voting it the Best Comedy of All Time. It was nominated for an impressive 62 Emmys, winning Outstanding Comedy in 2002. So pervasive was the show’s cultural pull that Rachel’s hairstyle was practically a character on the show all by itself. 

Perhaps because the show hit such a nerve in a good way, there was a tendency to say that it hit a nerve in a bad way, especially once the show was over. BuzzFeed has an article listing “21 Times Friends was Actually Really Problematic”. One of them was how it used lesbianism as a punchline.

Another one of the entries on the list is, “The lack of diversity in both the main and ensemble cast.” One person pointed out: “In all 10 seasons of the show, there are only three named characters who aren’t white.”

What did David Schwimmer do for diversity on ‘Friends’?

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The artist formerly known as Ross.

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There have been so many attempts to “well, actually” or “gotcha” Friends that they’ve caught the attention of the cast. Schwimmer acknowledged that yes, diversity was an issue on the show, and that’s why he tried to do something about it. 

“I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color,” Schwimmer told The Guardian. “One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian-American woman, and later I dated African-American women.”

At the same time, Schwimmer feels that the think-pieces don’t really think enough themselves and consider the context. He said: ” You have to look at it from the point of view of what the show was trying to do at the time. I’m the first person to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like my barometer was pretty good at that time.”

‘Friends’ nostalgia runs strong

Despite the various controversies, Friends nostalgia runs extremely strong, especially considering that various 25th-anniversary celebrations are ongoing. The news that Friends was going to leave Netflix prompted dozens of articles because that remained one of the most-watched shows on the streamer, despite Netflix’s push for its own original content like Stranger Things or The Irishman

Jennifer Aniston, who played Rachel Green on the series, literally broke the Internet, or Instagram at least, when she debuted on that social media platform. Co-star Matthew Perry, who portrayed Chandler Bing, also joined Instagram to a plethora of followers and fanfare.

Now comes the news that the reunion show draws near to debut on HBO Max, the streamer developed by Warner Bros., that took Friends away from Netflix. Each of the six stars will be paid between $3 million and $4 million to appear on the reunion. That kind of money will inspire a think piece or two itself. 

However, this reunion will be a celebration of the past, not a one-off continuation or reboot of the show, according to creators Marta Kauffman and David Bright. “(A reboot is ) not going to beat what we did,” Kauffman said. Added co-creator David Crane: “We did the show we wanted to do. We got it right, and we put a bow on it.”