'Friends' Reunion Director Defends Show Amid Criticism Over Lack of Diversity

The director of Friends: The Reunion has defended the show from accusations it lacked racial diversity.

Friends stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, and Matthew Perry recently reunited onscreen for the long-awaited special, which aired on HBO Max in May.

While the beloved NBC sitcom had been criticized for its lack of diversity throughout its decade-long run between 1994 and 2004, the reunion was also met with similar backlash when a trailer for the special was released.

Director Ben Winston defended the show from the charges, pointing out the inclusion of such celebrity guests as Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, South Korean boy band BTS, and actress Mindy Kaling, who is of Indian heritage.

When asked by The Times for his thoughts on critics of the reunion, he responded: "They haven't seen it. We have Malala, Mindy Kaling, BTS. 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."

Actress Aisha Tyler, who is Black and played the girlfriend of Schwimmer's character Ross Geller on Friends in 2003, was absent from the lineup of guest stars who returned for the TV special.

But Winston—a co-executive producer of The Late Late Show with James Corden—said that logistics played a part in certain absences, explaining: "Not everyone could join us. But I'm really pleased with the show we were able to put together."

In May, The Hollywood Reporter published an interview with Friends creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane, and the show's executive producer/director Kevin Bright, during which they addressed the sitcom's "all-white, heteronormative" main cast.

"There are different priorities today and so much has changed," said Bright. "There was no social media when Friends was on the air. Can you imagine what every episode might have been like if it had to go under that scrutiny every week? You might not have gotten the whole series.

"It's important for today's shows to be reflective of the ways society truly is. But for our experience, the three of us, that may have been our experience when we were young and in New York.

"But we didn't intend to have an all-white cast. That was not the goal, either. Obviously, the chemistry between these six actors speaks for itself."

Added Kauffman: "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. So, it was certainly not conscious.

"And it wasn't because it was literally based on people, because it wasn't literal. You get an inspiration for someone, you write what you think their voice is going to be, but it wasn't literal."

During the Friends reunion, the original cast members were seen looking back on their time on the show as they got back together onscreen some 17 years after their hit sitcom came to an end.

Among the celebrity guests were Reese Witherspoon, Tom Selleck, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Cindy Crawford, and David Beckham, while James Corden served as host.

The cast of "Friends"
"Friends" stars (L-R) David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc win for Best Comedy Series at the 54th Annual Emmy Awards in 2002. The stars were recently seen getting back together for HBO Max special "Friends: the Reunion." Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage