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Friends boss calls wrong pronouns for Chandler's parent "a mistake"

Marta Kauffman added she has learned a lot since the sitcom's heyday.

Kathleen Turner in Friends
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Published: Tuesday, 5th July 2022 at 12:24 pm
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Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman has addressed the show's treatment of trans character Helena Handbasket, describing the lack of respect for her pronouns as "a mistake".

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Kathleen Turner portrayed Chandler's parent, who transitioned during her son's tumultuous teenage years and went on to secure a residency in Las Vegas.

Over the course of the hit sitcom, several jokes are made about Helena's sexuality and gender identity, with Chandler frequently speaking to or about her in masculine pronouns and terms.

Kauffman has been receptive to criticism of Friends through a modern lens, tackling the show's handling of trans issues in an interview with The Conversation on BBC World Service.

"We kept referring to [Helena] as ‘Chandler’s father’, even though Chandler’s father was trans," she recalled. "Pronouns were not yet something that I understood, so we didn’t refer to that character as ‘she’. That was a mistake."

The television writer and producer, who has recently worked on Netflix's Grace and Frankie, went on to detail how her approach has changed in the years since Friends wrapped up.

"I like very much to create an environment where we have a happy set and a happy crew," continued Kauffman. "It’s very important to me that where we are is a safe place, a tolerant place, where there’s no yelling. I fired a guy on the spot for making a joke about a trans cameraperson. That just can’t happen."

Kathleen Turner and Matthew Perry in Friends
Kathleen Turner and Matthew Perry in Friends SEAC

Another criticism frequently levelled at Friends is its lack of diversity, with Kauffman recently pledging $4 million to African and African American Studies out of "guilt" over "having bought into systemic racism".

To BBC World Service, she added: "Over the course of the last few years I’ve gotten to the point where I can say unfortunately yes, I am guilty of that. And I’ll never make that mistake again.

"I was clearly part of systemic racism in our business. I was unaware of that, which makes me feel stupid. That was a very valid, extremely difficult criticism which still… I get emotional about.

"If I knew then what I know now, there are certain things I would have changed. But I didn’t know them and I have since learned."

Friends is available to stream on Netflix. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.

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