The director of the recent Friends reunion special has defended the show against criticism that it lacks diversity, saying those who are dissing the program haven’t actually seen it.
In an interview with Britain’s The Times, Emmy-winner Ben Winston pointed out the special featured appearances by Mindy Kaling, the K-pop band BTS, and human rights activist Malala Yousafzai. In addition, the show highlighted fans from around the world, including those in Ghana, India, and Kenya.
“What more diversity do they want in this reunion?” Winston told the Times, according to a report from BuzzFeed. “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 why some supporting or recurring characters didn’t appear in the special, such as actress Aisha Tyler, who is black, Winston said “not everyone could join” the special.
“I’m really pleased with the show we were able to put together,” Winston said.
Friends co-creators Kevin Bright and Marta Kauffman told The Hollywood Reporter they didn’t intend to have an all-white ensemble but said they have no regrets about casting.
“What can I say?” Bright said. “I wish Lisa [Kudrow] was Black? I’ve loved this cast. I loved the show and I loved the experience.”
Friends: The Reunion, which debuted last month on HBO Max, followed the main cast as they revisited the show’s old sets and performed a table read of favorite scenes.
The special has been criticized for its perceived lack of diversity, both in its all-white principal cast as well as guest stars. The Los Angeles Times ran an opinion piece chastising the special’s creators for failing to take race into account a year after George Floyd’s death.
“It’s uncomfortable — if not outright inappropriate — to raise a glass to a sitcom that was so blind to the multiculturalism of the world where it took place,” the piece said.
Another piece in Britain’s Glamour magazine accused Friends of having a “chronic lack of diversity.” It also faulted the reunion special for not bringing back any black supporting cast members.
“There’s no doubt that this will surely feel like a slap in the face for Black people around the world,” the article stated.