Were No Black People Available For The Friends Reunion?

30 people - including cast members and famous fans - are participating in the Friends reunion episode. A failure to include a single Black person is unacceptable.


by Guy Pewsey |
Published on

The Friends reunion is finally upon us, with a new trailer teasing the one-off return of Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and Matt Le Blanc. But they are not alone. The reunion - a televised, nostalgic trip down memory lane - will also feature celebrity cameos from a curious blend of A-Listers, including Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, David Beckham and BTS. Going through the list, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you were hallucinating. Who, after all, knew that Malala Yousafzai was a Friends fan? But once you had regained your wits and accepted that this list is, indeed, authentic, you may also have had an important question: were no Black Friends fans available? Take a look at the trailer here:

That's right. Not a single Black man or woman features on the list. People who repeatedly exclaim that 'they don't see colour' might not see that as a problem, but it really is. When the programme aired, it was often remarked that the core cast very rarely interacted with Black characters, and since the show came off our screens its lack of diversity has come up again and again as a huge problem. You would, therefore, imagine that the team behind the show would move heaven and earth to ensure that a Black person - just one, single Black person - would be involved in this broadcast.

Naturally, they didn't have many options when it came to enlisting a former cast member. Aisha Tyler, who played Charlie in nine episodes of the show's ninth and tenth seasons, is the only Black actor to have enjoyed what could be described as a significant role in Friends. That's not to minimise the work of others - Phill Lewis notched up three episodes, Ron Glass and Monique Edwards managed two, and famous actresses Gabrielle Union and Sherri Shepherd featured in notable one-episode arcs - but Aisha is really the only legitimate contender for inclusion in a reunion episode. Was she asked? I'm sure she was. Perhaps she didn't want to participate. Perhaps she did, but her schedule or prior commitments excluded her as an option. But the outreach shouldn't have stopped there.

Perhaps producers did show an awareness of the questionable Friends legacy, and made major efforts to approach Black men and women in the celebrity sphere. Perhaps those people simply could not commit - famous people are busy - or declined to be involved in the celebration of a programme that did little to represent them. But it does feel slightly hard to believe that not one Black person was interested in partaking in a programme that will be watched by millions. You can get David Beckham, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and BTS - truly four of the most famous personalities/acts in the world right now - but can't find a single Black person keen to participate?

In the 90s and early 00s, Friends failed to present New York's true diversity. It is a shame, but we can't lay blame solely at its door: the TV industry failed in this way time and time again with other hits like Ally McBeal, Caroline In The City, Sex And The City and Will & Grace. But this year, Friends had an opportunity to address this issue simply by inviting a Black former cast member or fan to come celebrate the show with other celebrities. They did not have to be the talking head on race and talk about the show's shortcoming - it is not the job of Black people to educate others on representation, diversity and inclusion - but in this case the failure to find a Black participant seems to signify that the makers of Friends have not done their due diligence. It was a real chance for a learning moment that has been missed completely. And involving people who are not white - Mindy Kaling, Malala, BTS - does not give them a free pass.

When we tune into the Friends reunion episode, there are going to be 30 people on our screens: six Friends, eight actors who appeared in at least one episode and sixteen celebrity fans (there are seven members in BTS). The idea that there is not one Black person in this list shows that Friends has either failed in its efforts to address its historic representation problem or, worse, didn't even care enough to try.

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