The co-creator of Friends has said it was a mistake not to use appropriate pronouns for Chandler Bing’s transgender parent in the hit 90s sitcom.
Marta Kauffman, 65, said she now regrets the representation of the character Amanda Bing, who was played by Kathleen Turner.
“We kept referring to her as Chandler’s father, even though Chandler’s father was trans,” she said in an interview with The Conversation on the BBC World Service, which will be broadcast on 11 July.
“Pronouns were not yet something that I understood. So we didn’t refer to that character as she. That was a mistake.”
Kauffman co-created Friends with David Crane in 1994. The show, which ran for a decade, followed the lives of six friends living in Manhattan, New York, and earned tens of millions of dollars in syndication and streaming for its creators and cast.
Chandler, played by Matthew Perry, was one of the show’s main characters along with Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) and Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc).
Turner appeared in the sitcom in three episodes in season seven, which was first broadcast in 2001. Her character’s identity and appearance were often mocked by the others, including Chandler.
The character was never explicitly acknowledged as trans in the programme, being referred to as gay and shown working as a drag artist called Helena Handbasket.
Speaking to Gay Times in 2018, Turner said she would not take on the role if she was offered it again, and would leave it to a trans woman instead. “I don’t think [Friends] has aged well. It was a 30-minute sitcom. It became a phenomenon, but no one ever took it seriously as a social comment,” she said.
“How they approached with me with it, was: ‘Would you like to be the first woman playing a man playing a woman?’ I said yes, because there weren’t many drag/trans people on television at the time.”
Kauffman, who is also the creator of Netflix hit Grace and Frankie, said she now strives to create inclusive and diverse workplaces.
“I like very much to create an environment where we have a happy set and a happy crew,” she said.
“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 said Friends “did not have enough representation of black people” and that she was “clearly part of systemic racism in our business”.
She added: “I was unaware of that, which makes me feel stupid. That was a very valid, extremely difficult criticism which still … I get emotional about.
“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.”
It comes after the writer and producer announced she was donating $4m (£3.3m) to her old university, Brandeis in Massachusetts, to establish an endowed professorship in the school’s African and African American studies department because she was so “embarrassed” by the white homogeneity of the characters on Friends.
“It was after what happened to George Floyd that I began to wrestle with my having bought into systemic racism in ways I was never aware of,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”