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Daniel Dae Kim Opens Up About Loving The Sitcom Friends, But Gets Honest About How There's Just No Representation

Daniel Dae Kim in NBC's New Amsterdam
(Image credit: NBC)

Friends is one of the most beloved and successful sitcoms of all time, even 18 years since its final episode aired on NBC. However, there’s one big issue that will always haunt the show as its 236 episodes continue to draw in fans on streaming and in syndication: its lack of diversity. New Amsterdam vet Daniel Dae Kim, who has become an advocate for Asian American and Pacific Islander rights, shared some honest comments about the sitcom’s lack of representation, even as he said he totally loved the hit comedy.

Daniel Dae Kim is known for playing Jin-Soo Kwon on Lost, Chin Ho Kelly on Hawaii Five-0 and for appearing in a ton of other major shows. He also started the production company 3AD, which develops content that specifically features underrepresented characters and stories, including The Good Doctor. The actor told Esquire that he and his wife have gotten into the habit of pointing out Asian faces to their children when they’re watching TV or a movie, which not only allows them to take note of representation, but also makes it obvious when such diversity is lacking, he said:

We also do that when we see a show that has no minority representation. We'd say, ‘Wow that, that's an awfully homogeneous cast.’ And you know, my kids loved Friends because they would watch repeats and they would say to me, ‘Hey, how come in their New York everyone is white?’ ‘Thank you for thinking about that,’ I would tell them. Because it's true. As much as I love that show, when it came to diversity it was…it was…challenged, shall we say. It’s important that we look at all of our entertainment through our lens. But it always says something about the way that I grew up.

The main cast of Friends — Jennifer Aniston (Rachel), David Schwimmer (Ross), Matt LeBlanc (Joey), Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe), Matthew Perry (Chandler) and Courteney Cox (Monica) — are all white, but the lack of representation didn’t stop there. Except for a couple of notable exceptions, most of the recurring cast, guest stars, and random people they encountered, including their love interests and fellow Central Perk patrons, were pretty lacking by way of people of color — a ridiculous thought when considering what New York City's population actually comprises.

Daniel Dae Kim consistently speaking out on the issue and shining a light on such missteps is one way to help change the landscape of what’s on our screens. He and Grace Park famously left Hawaii Five-0 due to pay discrepancies with their white co-stars. CBS said at the time that Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan were the leads of the series, and Kim and Park were supporting characters, which didn't sit right when the latter pair. More conversations are being had about minority cast members being paid less than their white co-stars in the TV industry. Not that Friends, with one of the highest-paid casts in TV history, had such discrepancies to worry about.

Sherri Shepherd had a memorable guest appearance on the sitcom as Joey's museum colleague Rhonda, and she  has addressed Friends’ diversity problem, saying it was hard to see a New York depicted with no other characters who looked like her. Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman also spoke about the issue on the CNN special History of the Sitcom, admitting that representation on the series was lacking. According to her, the issue is a product of the time and her own ignorance, saying back then there were “black shows and there were white shows. There weren’t a lot of shows that were interracial.”

David Schwimmer, however, has said he was aware of the problem and made a conscious push to have his character date women of color. Ross dated Julie (Lauren Tom) early in the series, then had a relationship with Charlie (Aisha Tyler) later on, with he and Joey fighting over Kristen Lang (Gabrielle Union) in one particularly amusing storyline. Simply put, however, it’s not enough, and the under-representation is a fair criticism that Friends will always carry. So if Kim wants to bring an Asian-geared iteration of the sitcom to TV anytime soon, we'll take it.

Currently Kim is set to appear in the upcoming live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series on Netflix. Check out our 2022 TV Schedule to see what premieres are coming soon to television and streaming.

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.