SNL’s Diversity Scandal Settles

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By Daniela Santos

Since the beginning of its current season, sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live had gained controversy over its lack of diversity in the cast.

Activists for racial equality and SNL fans, like myself, have not heard the end of this subject. Personally, it’s upsetting that, five years into the presidency of Barack Obama, Lorne Michaels, the creator of the show, still needed the wakeup call from the show’s only two black cast members to realize that ethnicity was lacking.

The show is definitely known for its ability to make stars. Without SNL, great African American comedians such as; Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan and Eddie Murphy may have never entered the spotlight. However, throughout the show’s thirtynine seasons there have now only been five African American females on the show. The current one being Sasheer Zamata who is the first African American women to join the cast since Maya Rudolph left the show in 2007.

Controversy began when the show announced in late 2013 that is was adding six new, all Caucasian, featured players, causing cast member Jay Pharoah to make a public statement that October saying that the show was “too white.”  Ten year veteran Kenan Thompson later that month followed Pharoah’s comment by refusing to dress in drag, insisting that the producers instead hire a black woman to fill those roles.

Michaels responded to the furor last December by announcing that he was holding auditions specifically for black women. When I first heard of this, I was a bit unsettled at the idea that perhaps Michaels made this proclamation simply to not be seen as the bad guy. In a story on TMZ’s website a black woman who came to these said auditions claims that they were “BS” and that the auditions did not feel legitimate due to the absence of Michaels, who is usually known to attend these occasions. The idea that these auditions may have been a publicity stunt is hard to prove, but if SNL’s goal was to please critics then they have accomplished that mission.

Throughout the whole dilemma, prior to the casting of Zamata, SNL has done a good job mocking itself. From having host Kerry Washington play numerous African American women in just the cold open, to having Thompson be referred to by Michaels as “the black one” in a game show sketch, the show has successfully kept the mood light.

Now that Zamata has been a part of the show since its returned from the holiday break, claims of the show’s racism have vanished. In fact, watchers have even shined a light on the comedy. During Zamata’s first episode—with rapper Drake as the host and musical guest—viewers on Twitter could not stop talking about the change in tone for the show. Buzzfeed even came to the conclusion that the social media app declared it the “blackest SNL” in the show’s history. Despite the constructed hype for the show, the episodes following seemed to be average SNL. I have also yet to see Zamata bring anything more to a sketch than her presence and worthiness of being a part of the cast. My only hope for the show is that this lack-of-ethnicity crisis does not overshadow any potential that Zamata may have.