Over a quarter-century, after the iconic sitcom Friends first aired (in 1994), there are talks of a Friends’ reunion on OTT space. While the show’s enduring popularity has evinced much praise for its characters’ relatability across generations. Its critics (some from within the cast) have been equally vocal in calling out the 90s show for its lack of diversity, homophobia, and sexism.
Amidst calls for inclusiveness and Black Lives Matters protests in the post-truth, neo-racist world — it is undeniable that the reunion of the cast of this legendary sitcom, with or without its inherent problems, is much-awaited.
Watch: Friends The Reunion Special (2020) Trailer
A lot has been written about this show over the years. For the (unlikely) uninitiated readers, the show covered the trials and tribulations of six friends living in New York through the 1990s and early 2000s. The show had an entire generation of millennials glued to their TV screens for over a decade. Further, saw them watch Friends reruns on VHS tapes and now Netflix.
The show has often been recommended for its light-hearted humor, feel-good storyline, and its relatable characterization, as being almost therapeutic in nature; and has correspondingly been panned for its extremely sexist punchlines and misogynistic views.
Problematic themes Friends can’t get away with
While the show has included LGBT characters, transsexuals, and single parents, Friends has also been accused of being hugely homophobic. The show has also been termed racist with the main characters being all-white. Yet, surprisingly, the one aspect of Friends that seems to have gone unnoticed is the blatantly racist stance of one of the show’s lead character Rachel Green (played by Jennifer Aniston).
This is not an unsubstantiated claim thrown in with all other criticism with an aim to garner eyeballs. It is, in fact, in an inverted way, credible that the creators have been true to the characterization. There is a sustained, and not unintentional, theme of Rachel’s evident dislike for people of colour seen throughout the series.
Watch: Controversial Moments On Friends
There are many, many references to Rachel’s privileged upbringing throughout the show, and it is not a surprise that someone with such a protected (read: upper-class white) lifestyle, when growing up, should display anything different when it comes to interacting with people of color.
Rachel’s privileged background is revealed right from her entry when she walks into the coffee shop in her wedding dress, or when her friends from her old life visit her at the coffee shop, or when she does not know how to launder clothes… The instances are numerous — both comical and ridiculous.
The point is — that it would be obvious that growing up in a largely white, upper-class neighborhood, Rachel was unlikely to have had many non-white associations. Thus, every time Rachel encounters non-white people, her inherent biases show up in unabashed ways.
Rachel’s Racist Remarks Throughout The Series
Take for instance the time when the girls have to switch flats with the boys over a stupid bet that they lose (The One With All The Haste, Episode 19, Season 4). Rachel hates every minute of being in the boys’ flat. She is woken up on a Saturday morning by a cheerful African-American singing next door. This annoys her enough for her to confront him about it from her window. She then goes on a rant complaining to Joey and Monica. The former defends the singing and claims that he actually loves it. However, Rachel’s reaction is unreasonably rude and aggressive.
Rachel’s blatant disinclination for anyone non-Caucasian is also evinced earlier in her hatred for Ross’ Asian girlfriend, Julie (The One With The Breast Milk, Episode 2, Season 2). Even as Rachel gives Julie a chance to befriend her, the episode ends with her calling Julie a “manipulative bitch” to huge canned laughter. Granted that some of her reaction is borne from jealousy yet—despite disliking Ross’ white girlfriends—Rachel does not use abusive language toward.
Watch: Rachel And Julie
In The One With The Halloween Party (Episode 19, Season 8), a pregnant Rachel decides to bond with kids by distributing Halloween treats to those tricking or treating. However, when she encounters a precocious black kid, who wants money instead of treats, she responds with a “shut up” to his “shut up”, making him cry! She is shown as downright mean to the child while just ahead of that she gives a basket full of candies to a pretty, blonde girl. Rachel, immediately, chases down and apologises to the crying kid, but the apology seems forced…
In The One With The Soap Opera Party (Episode 21, Season 9) Rachel takes an immediate dislike to Ross’ brilliant African-American colleague, Charlie Wheeler, (who also seems like an afterthought by the series’ creators to address the diversity issue). Charlie calls out Rachel’s lies about Joey’s party and is dismissed rudely by her.
Rachel’s dislike for Charlie is further demonstrated in The One With The Donor (Episode 22, Season 9) where Joey volunteers Rachel to help Charlie shop. Here, Rachel openly tells Phoebe that she doesn’t like Charlie. It is obvious that the discomfort is borne of something deeper than just jealousy.
All of these incidents just serve to confirm that beneath the beautiful, blonde, kind and funny exterior lays a blatantly sexist, white supremacist Rachel Green–the show’s main protagonist.
Was This Intentional
This is not to suggest that the show itself was intentionally racist. In fact, to give credit to the cast and crew, it was successful in portraying the biases that often become a part of one’s psyche. The subtle and not-so-subtle undertones of racism, sexism and homophobia also show that the series reflected that consciousness about these issues was not evolved at the time. Something that has also been acknowledged by the show’s creators and cast.
To give credit to the cast and crew, it was successful in portraying the biases that often become a part of one’s psyche.
It will be interesting to see how Jennifer Aniston’s character pans out in the Friend’s Reunion, should it happen. Will she continue to display the privileged, racist heroine from two decades earlier or can one speculate that Rachel Green will confront these images from her past and evolve into a more sensitive, balanced and aware human being.