Kathleen Turner on Friends (Photo: Warner Bros./Everett Collection)
In an upcoming interview on the BBC’s The Conversation, Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman reveals she regrets the show’s treatment of trans character Helena Handbasket (Kathleen Turner), who played one of Chandler’s (Matthew Perry) parents.
“We kept referring to [Helena] as ‘Chandler’s father,’ even though Chandler’s father was trans,” Kauffman said, according to the Huffington Post UK. “Pronouns were not yet something that I understood, so we didn’t refer to that character as ‘she.’ That was a mistake.”
Kauffman told the BBC that in the years since Friends aired, her approach has changed, and she’s now more cognizant of issues like race and gender identity.
“I like very much to create an environment where we have a happy set and a happy crew,” said Kauffman. “It’s very important to me that where we are is a safe place, a tolerant place, where there’s no yelling. I fired a guy on the spot for making a joke about a trans cameraperson. That just can’t happen.”
Kauffman also reiterated her regret about Friends‘ lack of diversity, a sentiment that recently led her to make a $4 million donation to Brandeis University’s African and African American Studies department.
“Friends has been criticized in a number of ways,” she said. “The biggest one being that we did not have enough representation of Black people. And over the course of the last few years I’ve gotten to the point where I can say unfortunately yes, I am guilty of that.”
“I’ll never make that mistake again,” she continued. “I was clearly part of systemic racism in our business. I was unaware of that, which makes me feel stupid. That was a very valid, extremely difficult criticism which still… I get emotional about.”
Kauffman added, “If I knew then what I know now, there are certain things I would have changed. But I didn’t know them and I have since learned.”
Marta Kauffman’s BBC interview is set to air in full on July 11.
All seasons of Friends are currently streaming on HBO Max.
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Deena ElGenaidi’s writing has been featured in Nylon, MTV News, Insider, The AV Club, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @deenaelg.