Queen Latifah, who starred in Living Single, a woman who is definitely a “credible source” explained to James Cordon on the Late Late Show in 2016 exactly how Warren Littlefield, who was president of NBC at the time, openly admitted that he wanted the show Living Single – which aired on Fox – he wanted that same show on NBC, and then the next thing she knew, Friends premiered on NBC.
“It was interesting because, when Living Single came out, shortly thereafter, Warren Littlefield, who was at NBC, they asked him if he could have any show on television — any of the news shows — which one would it be?” Latifah said. “And he said Living Single. It was in the newspaper. And then the next thing you know here comes Friends.”
Now the fact that the star of friends, David Schwimmer, either didn’t know that – or pretended not to know that – or forgot that he did know that – is outrageous to me. Whether he didn’t know, or was pretending not to know, or forgot that he did know – either situation is outrageous to me.
But I want to move past my outrage and talk about something productive – I want to talk about the difference between being an ally to Black people and swooping in and thinking you are being a savior to Black people.
In the full interview with The Guardian, the statement suggesting an all-Black re-make of Friends is crouched between David Schwimmer defending the criticism that Friends receives currently, in the new millenium, for racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia – it’s crouched between that defense and him explaining how he is aware of his own privilege as a White male who’s parents could afford to send him to a private school.
Here is an excerpt from the interview so you can see how this interview actually started out with David Schwimmer painting himself as an ally to Black people, then took a nose-dive in to White savior mode.
Millennials watching Friends on Netflix shocked by storylines,” ran a headline in the Independent two years ago, noting criticisms of sexism, homophobia and transphobia. It cited, for example, Chandler worrying about being perceived as a gay man, Ross asking a male nanny if he is gay, and jokes about Monica’s weight.
It is the only moment of the interview where Schwimmer appears a little defensive. “I don’t care,” he says, dismissively. “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.”
Friends is also a product of the pre-“woke” era when it comes to race. “Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends,” Schwimmer says. “But I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of colour. One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian American woman, and later I dated African American women. That was a very conscious push on my part.
Schwimmer’s social activism started with his parents. “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.”
For more than two decades Schwimmer has worked to raise public consciousness about rape and sexual harassment. In 2018 he made a series of short videos called #ThatsHarassment and he serves on the board of directors of the Rape Foundation in Santa Monica, California.
So you can see here, in context, where you have a non-Black person who wants to be seen as an ally to Black people as well as women. You can tell that by the fact that he was pushing to have Black characters on the show and he was pushing for interracial dating storylines. You can see that he wants to be seen as an ally. And I believe that’s why he’s bringing up this information to a news reporter nearly 20 years after the fact – because he wants to be seen as an ally.
So the fact that this story has gone viral for the opposite of what he was clearly trying accomplish is probably devastating to him and to his ego.
But to me, and a lot of Black people seeing this story unfold, the fact that David Schwimmer can’t acknowledge that the show he starred in, and still makes millions of dollars a year from in syndication, was preceded by an all-Black show, is what tells us that even though he wants to be seen as an ally, he’s actually operating out of a White savior complex.
IMO, he is stroking his own ego by suggesting an all-Black or all-Asian re-make of Friends. And he is stroking his own ego by pointing out how he pushed for his character to date women of color. And I think he’s even stroking his own ego by pointing out that he has the ability and the consciousness to recognize his own White male privilege. He’s just stroking and stroking his own ego, and now all that ego stroking has blown up in his face!
So, like I said earlier, I would like for this video to be productive. So I’m going to give some advice to David Schwimmer and other people in his position who want to be allies but who’s egos get in the way. My advice is to educate yourself on the history and the current issues of how whatever industry you’re in treats Black people in that industry.
If you’re in the entertainment industry, and you want to be an ally to Black people, educate yourself on how the entertainment industry historically and currently steals, mimics, copies, replicates and re-makes the creative ideas of Black people.
Living Single was Created and Executive Produced by Yvette Lee Bowser, a Black woman. And it was produced by her production company, Sister Lee, a Black woman owned production company, when Yvette Lee Bowser was just 27 years old.
So the creativity of a young, intelligent Black woman is what the White male president of NBC to was trying to replicate with the show Friends.
Starting out seeking that type of knowledge and educating yourself on how your industry currently and historically treats Black people in your industry is how you can begin to be an ally to Black people without your ego taking you down the wrong road where you think you’re actually helping Black people but in reality you’re showing that you’re ignorant to the struggles that Black people go through.