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“Friends” x “Living Single”: The Racism Behind Success

Six friends that live in New York get together to talk about their lives and dilemmas. Along with the uncertainties, they face their problems and love cases with that kind of humor that everybody needs after a long and hard day. Images of the city that never sleeps and its buildings surround the plot recognizably. The iconic picture that must’ve come to your mind is the classic coffee shop with the sound of “I’ll be there for you” and the distinguished group of friends.

But the intriguing part of it is that if it wasn’t for the marginalization, two sitcoms would’ve come to our heads. To the surprise of many, one year before the release of “Friends” (1994), a show such as that one was released, with the same association with Warner Bros.: “Living Single” (1993), a sitcom based on the same plot of friends in New York getting together to talk about life matters. But why don’t we remember Living Single and only give a chance to Friends?

Could it be more similar?

Aside from the location and the plot, “Friends” and “Living Single” have so much in common. Especially when it comes to the characters. From the first episode of both shows, there’s an evident love for fashion, by Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) with the new boots and by Regine (Kim Fields) with her eccentric looks. But it’s not just fashion that holds these two characters with similarities. Both of them show difficulties with relationships and with the search for the right guy. The role of the exotic and a little crazy friend that sees the world in her own and particular way is played by Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and Sinclair (Kim Coles).

The glue that puts the whole group together with strength and focus is, with no doubt, the characters Monica Geller (Courtney Cox) and Khadija (Queen Latifah). The aspect of being the hosts and of having strong strings attached to all the other friends make them leading roles in both sitcoms. The lovers of sarcasm will quickly figure out from whom these kinds of jokes come. Brilliantly Chandler Bing (Mathew Perry) and Kyle Barker (Terrence Carson) make the environment even more interesting with their quotes and associations although sometimes a little bitter. Not to mention their big similarity, therefore, the two having some considerable amount of money they can brag about.

In both groups, we can find an intellectual. A paleontologist and an attorney make their way to bringing some knowledge to the others. Both Ross (David Schwimmer) and Maxine (Erika Alexander) have an unstable relationship with another member of the group. And last but not least, the complete opposite of what is the essence of Ross and Maxine: Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) and Overton Jones (John Henton) are the most careless and a little sluggish one of the guys. They’re usually put in some tricky situations due to being easy to manipulate. Through the dynamics of the stories, there can be found many more connections, even though they’re mainly based on the similarities of the characters.


Although the many correlations, there’s one characteristic that mostly differs between the two shows: the color of the actors. This contrast, which wasn’t supposed to make much of a difference, actually mattered a lot for the level of their success. Unfortunately, in the audiovisual world and productions, there’s a huge inequality when it comes to the representativity of white and black productions. Plunged in this context, mobilizations started to appear such as #OscarSoWhite and others that claimed for more representation and diversity. “Living Single” was seen and supported by a lot of people, but not as many people as “Friends”. The same way “Living Single” was awarded in some premieres, but not as much as “Friends”.

Even the author of “Friends” Saul Austerlitz pointed out when he was criticized for not choosing any black actors for his cast, that most of the integrants were white because they were concerned about how the public would react to a black cast and the lack of representativity felt by the spectators. So, in that way, a supposedly non-relevant difference ended up causing a whole more complicated outcome.

The battle

These marketing and racist decisions that outshined “Living Single” are the reasons why people only remember “Friends”. That’s even worse when put in the perspective that “Living Single” was the one that pioneered the idea of a show in those models and yet didn’t get credit for it. Some of the actors also pointed out the issue. In an interview to James Corden asked Queen Latifah (Khadija in Living Single) if  “when ‘Friends’ came out did you think ‘Wait a minute, we’ve already been doing this?”, and she said, “We knew we’ve been already doing it”.

Research of the New York Times showed the division between black spectators and white spectators according to the cast of each show. John Henton, another actor of “Living Single” who played the role of Overton, also said in an interview for Comedy Hype how “Friends” was a shameless copy of their first appearance: “We got no acknowledgment, that’s a thing that bothered me the most”, said.

David Schwimmer 

The repercussions didn’t end there. After an interview to The Guardian which David Schwimmer (Ross Geller on “Friends”) said he was aware of the lack of representativity, but forgot to mention the existence of “Living Single” and how it pioneered in many aspects brought to television: “Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends,” Schwimmer said. “But I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color. That was a very conscious push on my part.”

In response to that, Erika Alexander (Maxine in Living Single) called the actor out in a tweet. He later apologized for not mentioning the show and said if the creators really took from basis “Living Single” to create “Friends” they owe the originals for it.

Moonlight (2017), Jay-Z

Another reverberation of that matter was the video clip of Jay-Z for the song “Moonlight (2017)” in which he shows how representativity in the black productions is shrunk.

From that perspective, it’s not a matter of reducing any of the shows. They both have their importance and flashes of brilliance that can bring a lot of laughter to all kinds of public. It’s just a matter of giving equal opportunities and acknowledgment to any type of creation.


The article above was edited by Karen Oliveira

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Catarina Nestlehner

Casper Libero '24

Jounalism student at Casper Libero. Travel and art lover.
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