I am a long-time, diehard fan of "Saturday Night Live," but I must admit my one grievance with the show: its lack of diversity. When season 39 of "SNL" debuted last fall, six white, male cast members were introduced and – surprise, surprise – no black actresses. And so, as a result, when a black woman hosts the show, she is usually asked to play every black, female celebrity possible.
A perfect example of this was a skit on "SNL" with "Scandal" star Kerry Washington, during which text came up on the screen that read, "The producers at 'Saturday Night Live' would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight. We made these requests both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent and also because 'SNL' does not currently have a black woman in the cast. As for the latter reason, we agree that this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the future...unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first."
NBC is obviously aware of their lack of diversity and are even willing to poke fun at it, but that doesn't rectify the situation. Not only are the two African-American men on the show, Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah, often asked to dress in drag in order to play iconic figures such as Maya Angelou, Whoopi Goldberg or Oprah Winfrey, but they're tired of it and have refused to do so any longer.
But, sadly, neither of these actors seem to have much support for bringing black females onto "SNL." Thompson, a long-time cast member of "Saturday Night Live," recently said in an interview with TVGuide.com that "they just never find ones that are ready" in auditions.
That being said, I applaud the network for some of the other progress they have made; mainly when they hired Aidy Bryant, a highly-talented and plus-sized actress, and Iranian Nasim Pedrad, who are both now regular cast members.
However, according to the same TVGuide.com article, "SNL" has only employed four black women in the history of the show: Yvonne Hudson (1980-81), Danitra Vance (1985-86), Ellen Cleghorne (1991-95) and Maya Rudolph (2000-2007). Thankfully, this January, Sasheer Zamata joins the cast as a featured player –– the first black woman since Rudolph left in 2007.
But by hiring Zamata, "SNL" has received even more criticism, since they brought her on in the middle of the season, making it seem as if they hired her just to satisfy the segregation complaints. Thus begs the question: did Producer Lorne Michaels choose her just because of her ethnicity, or will she prove to be an asset to the show? Well, yes, she was absolutely hired because she was black, but that's kind of the point. Obviously, there's a lot of pressure on her to perform and, in some sense, represent the black, female demographic. That being said, she's crazy talented, and I'm eager to see her contribute to the already-stellar "SNL" ensemble.
According to The Guardian, "Zamata is a perfect fit for the cast, from the way she holds herself on stage, to the inflections in her voice, to her natural hair –– she looks the part of an All-American girl. Yes, that kind of All-American girl. Often times we forget that black women are, too, America.... Diversifying a cast, of a long-standing show like 'SNL,' is not about merely having a black woman, or some supposed affirmative-action push for equality. It’s about equity, creating a space where all people have the opportunity to showcase skills."
And, for the record, Michaels didn't pull her out of the woodwork; Zamata has done noticeably well in the world of comedy, guest-starring on shows like "Inside Amy Schumer" and on her own webseries, "The Pursuit of Sexiness." She was voted by Cosmo as one of 13 female comedians to watch in 2014, and Lena Dunham also endorsed her via Twitter.
Whatever the case, I look forward to what Zamata will bring to the table. She debuts tonight at 11:30 p.m. EST with musical guest and host Drake. Good luck, Sasheer; we're rooting for you!