Friends: The Reunion sparked some criticism over its “lack of diversity,” and director Ben Winston has responded to the backlash. Last month, the reunion special premiered on HBO Max, featuring all six of the show’s original stars along with a variety of special guests. Though many fans enjoyed the reunion, there were some critics who questioned why Black actors who guest starred on Friends weren’t included, concluding that the special was not diverse enough.
Speaking with The Sunday Times, Winston was asked about the perceived lack of diversity in Friends: The Reunion. For his part, the director says that the people making those claims “haven’t seen it,” insisting that the special was in fact very diverse. Here’s how Winston explains it, straight from the interview.
“We have Malala, Mindy Kaling, BTS [the South Korean boy band]. 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.”
When asked why Black Friends actors weren’t featured, Ben Winston added: “Not everyone could join us. But I’m really pleased with the show we were able to put together.”
Along with the criticism over the special has been some additional criticism over the original Friends cast as well, as all six of the main characters are white. In a separate interview with The Hollywood Reporter, series co-creator Marta Kauffman said it was never the creative team’s intention to “have an all-white cast.”
“That was not the goal, either. Obviously, the chemistry between these six actors speaks for itself,” Kauffman said. “There are many things that I could say if I only knew then what I know now. Back then, there was no conscious decision. We saw people of every race, religion, color. These were the six people we cast… I’ve talked about it in the past and I do have very strong feelings about my participation in a system, but it comes down to I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
Executive producer Kevin Bright added: “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.”
James Corden hosted the reunion, which brought together Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry (who was the subject of his own controversy), and David Schwimmer. Some of the other guest stars included Cindy Crawford, Justin Bieber, Cara Delevingne, Thomas Lennon, Tom Selleck, Reese Witherspoon, and David Beckham. Lady Gaga also appeared to perform a duet of “Smelly Cat” with Kudrow in one of the special’s most talked about moments.
Friends: The Reunion is currently streaming on HBO Max. Classic episodes of the original series are also available to watch on the platform after WarnerMedia shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars to pick up the rights. Despite some retrospective backlash, the show is just as popular as ever. The full interview with Ben Winston was first published by The Sunday Times.
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