Reflecting on 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, shall we say,” he said.
The “Hawaii Five-0” actor spoke to Esquire about the topic in an interview highlighting his advocacy work just as AAPI Heritage Month came to a close. He recalled watching television with his family and the way he and his wife would intentionally point out instances of representation to their children.
“When my kids are watching shows, my wife and I always did this natural thing, which was whenever there was an Asian face on screen, to point it out to say, ‘Look,’” he explained. “Just by doing that, it kind of created a dynamic where you would notice when you didn’t see it.”
He and his wife also made sure to point out shows with an “awfully homogenous cast,” and he described “Friends” as being one of them.
“My kids loved ‘Friends’ because they would watch repeats and they would say to me, ‘Hey, how come in their New York everyone is white?’” Kim said. “‘Thank you for thinking about that,’ I would tell them. Because it’s true.”
The show featured an all-white ensemble 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 throughout its 10 seasons.
Kim pointed out that Asian Americans were statistically more likely than any other racial demographic to identify with non-Asians.
“So that means that they would see someone like Jennifer Aniston or any of the cast of ‘Friends’ and be able to say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s me,’” he went on. “Whereas other people of other races would not be able to do that as easily and as 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 towards and we were taught to assimilate. That’s a very interesting dynamic in the collective psyche of Asian America.”
One of the only recurring Asian characters in “Friends” was Julie, played by Lauren Tom, who was Ross’ girlfriend in the second season.
In recent years, cast and crew members have addressed the show’s lack of diversity as criticism arose of the ever-popular show. In 2020, co-creator Marta Kauffman was quoted as saying she “didn’t do enough,” while David Schwimmer proposed an “all-black ‘Friends’ or an all-Asian ‘Friends.’”
Kim, an advocate for Asian American rights, has been vocal about racial issues within his industry in the past. In an interview last year, he revisited the pay disparity 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 toward hiring Asian Americans.
“I think we need to talk about the good with the bad,” he said. “In terms of representation, we probably hired more Asian American actors than any other show over the same time span.”
Last month, Kim attended the first-ever gala for Gold House, a nonprofit collective of AAPI leaders who aim to advance representation and racial equity, as one of the honorees who sits in the organization’s Hall of Fame.
Feature Image via People
(left) and “Friends” (right)