Clap, clap, clap, clap. If you're a "Friends" fan like me, then you know what I'm talking about.
The popular sitcom first aired on September 22, 1994 and was wildly successful. "Friends" received 62 Emmy nominations and has received recognition from many magazines and critics as one of the best TV shows of all time. And I agree. In the five or six years I have been obsessed with this show, I only focused on the story lines. How Rachel and Ross's love story was so complicated, how Joey was such a womanizer but was so sweet and innocent, how Chandler struggled with his childhood, how Phoebe overcame every obstacle she faced as a child, how Monica battled her obesity to become one of the best chefs in New York City and every other instance astounded and captivated me. There's no doubt that it's one of the best shows to ever grace television. But recently, I began focusing on something other than the story lines. I began focusing on the people. My question when I first started watching was, "how can this get any better?" but my question now is "how can this be any less accurate?"
"Friends" is set in New York City during the 90's, one of the largest economical growth periods in history. Money was being made and being made fast. But for six friends in their early twenties, I would have expected them to be struggling in the city of dreams, and at times they were. At different points in the series, each character had been unemployed. My confusion recently is how in the world did they manage to remain living in the biggest apartments? How did they continue to pay rent and eat without jobs? Consider this: you are a poor, barely employed person living in New York City. Where do you live and what do you look like? I asked myself this question and time and time again I kept running into the same answer. You are probably living in a poor neighborhood and you most likely have brown skin. After this realization, my ultimate question then shifted to this "WHERE ARE ALL THE BROWN PEOPLE?!"
There was not a singular person of color on the Friends main cast. The only splurges of brown we see are Gabrielle Union, who was present in one episode, and Aisha Tyler who was present in nine episodes. Lauren Tom, an actress of Chinese descent, was present in seven episodes. Yes. There were seventeen episodes out of 236 where people of color were present. I was puzzled by this disproportionate factor. It was the 90's. There were TV shows like "Martin," "Living Single," "Family Matters," "Sister Sister," "The Steve Harvey Show," "The Jaime Foxx Show," "Moesha," and who could ever forget dark-skinned Aunt Viv on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"? So many more sitcoms that centered the life of brown people were reaching peaks of success and yet NBC couldn't find one brown character to be on their main cast? It's troubling to me as this is my second favorite sitcom of all time ("Living Single" will always be number one because Maxine Shaw Attorney at Law will always be the Maverick and preached true things like this).
These shows all had fantastic writers and their plots were incredible. They faced real and serious topics with amazing talent. I'm still reminded of the episode of "The Steve Harvey Show" where the conversation around guns and drugs in the 90's was the main plot. "Living Single" and "Martin" displayed the importance of HBCUs. "Sister Sister" and "Moesha" featured characters who were young and Black and attending college. "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" demonstrated what it was like to be Black and rich after coming from the hood. Will Smith portrayed a young man who stayed true to himself and his Black culture even when people around him were uncomfortable. These sitcoms told the story of us. They were the epitome of "Unapologetically Black."
Even today, majority of sitcoms and dramas neglect the importance of Brown skin and our stories. Thanks to "Scandal," "Grey's Anatomy," "How to Get Away with Murder," "Blackish," "Sleepy Hollow," "Being Mary Jane," "Underground WGN," "Empire," and Tyler Perry's many successful shows, we now see people of color in starring roles, but there is still plenty of room for us to fill. The talent is out there, we just need the opportunity to showcase it. Hollywood has progressed in small increments, but when they realize people want to know us, they will experience success like never before.
Shonda Rhimes, one of the most successful show creators and writers of all time, said this during the Black Girls Rock! celebration on BET, "Don’t look up here to us, put us in your rearview mirror. Change the world. Then change it again." So, if you are an aspiring writer, costume designer, producer, actor, or director willing to tell the stories of people of color, please do not stop. Keep reaching for your dreams and I guarantee you'll grasp them. We need you. We need to hear your stories, so keep going.