Monday, January 6, 2014

Why Has It Taken So Long for SNL to Add a Black Chick?

Sasheer Zamata is the first black female
on SNL in 5 years.
It's been years since Saturday Night Live has had a black female (Maya Rudolph was the last, she is actually mixed) on the show. 5 years to be exact. And, throughout their history, black females have been few and far between. But, today SNL has added Sasheer Zamata.

In recent years, SNL has been under more and more fire for not being diverse. It was only agitated further when the show hired a half dozen white males to join the show this past fall. But, this is not a new issue. In the past, much of the personnel issues had to do with gender lines.

During the 90s, SNL was often referred to as a boys' club. In the 70s and 80s, there were reports of John Belushi sabotaging women's sketches and preventing women writers from contributing to the show. Jane Curtin, one of the most beloved show members of all-time, said during an interview with Oprah, "[Female writers and performers] were working against John, who said women are just fundamentally not funny. So you'd go to a table read, and if a woman writer had written a piece for John, he would not read it in his full voice. He felt as though it was his duty to sabotage pieces written by women."

This female suppression was addressed Lorne Michaels in the late 90s and 2000s when he introduced an entire slew of female cast members: Cheri Oteri, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Tina Fey, and Molly Shannon to name a few. Oh, and of course, Rachel Dratch. She was amazing in Debbie Downer and the sketch where she had a baby arm coming out of her head. All of these women created memorable characters and even scored separate movie and television deals. It makes you wonder what took so long for them to be included.

Sasheer has a lot of black female figures to
play. She could still use help.
Recently, people have spoken up about the problem the show has when it comes to race. This hasn't been a new issue either. In a Grantland article featured late last year, writer Molly Lambert says, "Every season the majority of cast members are white, which started to seem even more old-fashioned when shows like In Living Color and MADtv were able to lampoon cultural touchstones that SNL couldn't go anywhere near." With stars like Oprah Winfrey (who has been around for thirty years), Beyonce, and Michelle Obama, the need for a black female on the show was never higher. It doesn't even make sense for them to have ignored this problem.

Fortunately, veteran comedian Sasheer Zamata is now stepping in to take the role. She has developed her reputation as a comedian and an improv performer, and she seems primed to take advantage of all the characters that are available to her (it would be nice if they added more black women, though).

This will only silence the critics for a short time, however. Some are still not happy because of other diversity issues that SNL needs to address. Lambert says, "But of course, hiring one black female won't fix everything. There have been an embarassingly low number of Asian and Hispanic cast members in the show's history."

Well, we'll see Miss Lambert. If I had to guess, it'll take at least 5 years for those issues to be addressed. Anyway, congrats Sasheer...

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