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David Schwimmer defends Friends for ‘groundbreaking’ LGBT+ stories

David Schwimmer defends Friends for ‘groundbreaking’ LGBT+ stories

  • Modern audiences re-watching the 90s hit US comedy Friends have accused it of homophobia and transphobia
David Schwimmer

David Schwimmer, who made his name as Ross in Friends, has defended the sitcom against claims it was homophobic and transphobic.

Schwimmer played Ross, one of the comedy’s six lead characters, throughout the series which ran from 1994 to 2004. At one point, Friends was the world’s most popular comedy.

But since Netflix started offering the boxset in 2015, new audiences have criticised it.

Younger audiences, watching Friends for the first time have pointed out sexist, homophobic and transphobic jokes.

There are many examples. Lead character Chandler worries he seems gay, Ross is sexist about a male nanny he thinks he is gay. And the characters repeatedly misgender Chandler’s trans female parent.

Defending Friends’ LGBT+ credentials

But speaking to The Guardian, Schwimmer defended Friends. He pointed out the sitcom had many LGBT+ characters and storylines. At the time, that was still rare.

‘The truth is also that show was groundbreaking in its time for the way in which it handled so casually sex, protected sex, gay marriage and relationships.

‘The pilot of the show was my character’s wife left him for a woman and there was a gay wedding, of my ex and her wife, that I attended.

‘I feel that a lot of the problem today in so many areas is that so little is taken in context. You have to look at it from the point of view of what the show was trying to do at the time.

‘I’m the first person to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like my barometer was pretty good at that time. I was already really attuned to social issues and issues of equality.’

Schwimmer admitted that the show lacked race diversity. And he said he pushed for his character to date an African American woman. Their relationship became a big storyline.

Moreover, Ross and his sister Monica were Jewish, allowing some religious diversity. In one famous episode he teaches his son about Hanukkah by dressing as ‘the Holiday Armadillo’.

Schwimmer’s ‘privilege’ as a ‘heterosexual white male’

Schwimmer also said that he has a sense of responsibility around social issues that his parents instilled in him.

He said: ‘My mom was a very vocal, groundbreaking feminist activist lawyer [and occasional actor].

‘So my earliest memories of theatre were watching these feminist productions that my mom was in and being on the picket line with my parents and fighting for women’s rights and gay rights.

‘That’s the environment I grew up in. I’m very aware of my own privilege as a heterosexual white male whose parents were able to pay for a private education for me.

‘I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility to give back and to call things out if I see an abuse of power.’

But one comment will disappoint some Friends fans. In a wide-ranging interview, Schwimmer, now 53, said he didn’t expect the cast to reprise their roles.

‘I think everyone feels the same: why mess with what felt like the right way to end the series? It would have to make sense creatively and nothing I’ve heard so far presented to us makes sense.’