There is no denying that NBC’s Friends is a beloved sitcom for many, and is still binged by fans who have watched the show since the ‘90s. Some have come to realize that the fan-favorite sitcom is lacking in the diversity department. Sherri Shepherd, one of the few Black people who appeared on the show, has now touched on this issue after Friends: The Reunion aired on HBO Max a couple months ago, despite saying she did enjoy working on the show.
When you have a show set in New York — and I've lived in New York for nine years — and I always saw diversity. All the time. When you walk down the street, you got to be in a bubble not to see how inclusive New York City is. It is one of the most inclusive, diverse cities I've ever been to. So that was a little bit hard to see a show where nobody looked like me.
Out of the small number of Black people who appeared throughout the ten seasons of the sitcom, Sherri Shepherd’s character was one of the even smaller number of characters who had a name. Her character Rhonda arguably had one of the most memorable and hysterical quotes from the show not uttered by one of the main characters when she motioned to her boobs and yells, “I’m Rhonda, and these aren’t real!” Even so, in the same interview, the actress says she was not invited back after she thought she was sure to be. In her own words:
...all of those executive producers came down to the set and was like, 'We got to have you back. You're so amazing.' And usually when people say that to me, they have me back. So with me not being called back, I thought, 'Ooh, I might've offended. Maybe that wasn't as cute as I thought it was. … And if I ever do run into [the producers], I'll tell them what a great time I had, and ask, 'Did I offend anybody? Because I would have loved to have come back. It was a great experience.
Sherri Shepherd, like many of the Black actors who appeared on Friends, very briefly appeared on the hit show. Shepherd is far from the only person to call out the lack of diversity in the popular sitcom. In the CNN special History of the Sitcom, Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman admits and recognizes that representation on the series was lacking. According to her, the lack of diversity is a product of the time and her own ignorance. This is what the writer and producer has to say:
It was, to a certain extent, a product of the time period. And of my own ignorance. There were black shows and there were white shows. There weren’t a lot of shows that were interracial.
Friends ended over 15 years ago, and did incorporate more Black characters with larger parts in its later seasons. Even so, the lack of diversity is pretty obvious, even to the point where a creator would make a statement on it. It’s interesting to imagine how much Friends and other older films and shows would have improved and transformed if characters like Sherri Shepherd’s Rhonda were given more of a chance to shine.