In terms of Asian American representation in Hollywood, Daniel Dae Kim points to the iconic ’90s sitcom Friends as just one of many shows that fall short.
“As much as I love that show, when it came to diversity, it was… it was… challenged, let’s say,” he said.
The “Hawaii Five-0” actor spoke up esquire on the subject in an interview highlighting his advocacy work just as AAPI Heritage Month drew to a close. He recalled watching television with his family and how he and his wife would purposely alert their children to cases of representation.
“When my kids are watching shows, my wife and I have always done this natural thing, and whenever there was an Asian face on screen, we’d point it out and say, ‘Look,'” he explained. “By that alone it created a kind of dynamic where you would notice if you hadn’t seen it.”
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He and his wife were also careful to point out shows with an “awfully homogenous cast,” and he described “Friends” as one of them.
“My kids loved ‘Friends’ because they watched reruns and they said to me, ‘Hey, how come their New York is all white?'” Kim said. “‘Thanks for thinking about it,’ I told them. Because it’s true.”
The show featured an all-white cast of six actors — Jennifer Aniston as Rachel, David Schwimmer as Ross, Courteney Cox as Monica, Matthew Perry as Chandler, Matt LeBlanc as Joey, and Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe — with few actors of color appearing during its shows 10 seasons.
Kim pointed out that Asian Americans are statistically more likely to identify with non-Asians than any other racial demographic.
“So that means you can see someone like Jennifer Aniston or anyone else from ‘Friends’ and go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s me,'” he continued. “Whereas other people of other races might not do so easily and willingly unless the character was of the same race. That was a very interesting thing that psychologically we look outside of our own experience because we didn’t have others to look at and we were taught to assimilate. This is a very interesting dynamic in the collective psyche of Asian America.”
One of the few recurring Asian characters in “Friends” was Julie, played by Lauren Tom, who was Ross’ girlfriend in season two.
In recent years, cast and crew members have addressed the show’s lack of diversity amid criticism of the well-loved show. In 2020, co-creator was Marta Kauffman quoted as said She “didn’t do enough,” while David Schwimmer suggested an “all black ‘Friends’ or an all Asian ‘Friends’.”
Kim, an advocate for the rights of Asian Americans, has been vocal about racial issues in his industry in the past. In an interview last year, he said revisited the pay gap between him and his white co-stars that eventually led to his decision to leave Hawaii Five-0, while still praising the show’s efforts to hire Asian Americans.
“I think we need to talk about good with bad,” he said. “In terms of representation, we probably hired more Asian-American actors than any other show over the same period.”
Last month, Kim attended the first-ever gala for golden housea nonprofit collective of AAPI leaders dedicated to advancing representation and racial justice, as one of the honorees to sit in the organization’s Hall of Fame.
feature image above persons (left) and “friends” (right)