Kerry Washington Can Play Every Black Woman, But SNL’s Lack of Diversity is No Joke
Shelby Rosten | On 05, Nov 2013
I’m not an avid fan of Saturday Night Live, but I do watch sometimes when I hear there are interesting people hosting. This week, Scandal’s Kerry Washington stopped by to host their November 2nd episode. Overall, I thought it was pretty standard SNL material, occasionally funny but not groundbreaking by any means, and Kerry Washington as usual did a wonderful job. The episode’s first three minutes, however, has been what’s catching attention. You can watch it here:
In their cold open, Kerry Washington plays Michelle Obama opposite Jay Pharoah’s Mr. President. The sketch ultimately pokes fun at the criticism of Saturday Night Live’s diversity, which is addressed directly as Michelle Obama rushes out of the Oval Office just in time for Oprah to walk in:
The producers of Saturday Night Live would like to apologize for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight. We made these requests because she 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 this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future… unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.
Here’s the thing, SNL: your lack of diversity is problematic, especially when it comes to minorities and even to women. I appreciate that you are aware of the problem, and that you have now drawn attention to it. We are all guilty of sitting down and watching television programs with predominantly white male casts and not even giving them a second thought, and this sketch is a perfect illustration of the problems with that. Now that you have proven yourselves worthy of laughing at yourselves and acknowledging a problem very publicly, in the words of a television president who was not sleeping with Olivia Pope: what’s next?
While I was watching this sketch the first time, I actually imagined it going a different way. I thought at the end of the sketch SNL would take the audience by surprise and have a new, black female cast member run in. A missed opportunity to make a memorable entrance for a new cast member, I thought. Once SNL does hire a black woman, it might feel like or appear to some that they are doing so just because they have promised to or feel obligated to. Although the actress they choose will undoubtably be deserving, to be brought on the show after such a big to do, which has probably happened considerably in advance of her introduction, will be a huge responsibility that is not entirely necessary.
I also took issue with this sketch, not because of the diversity message, which I think had good intentions, but because of the implication that they need a black woman on the cast so they can impersonate Oprah and Michele Obama and Beyonce. Everyone on SNL does impressions. I get that. But to reduce a future cast member to just impressions of important black women is limiting to the scope of what a black woman as a cast member could bring to SNL, besides her appearance. The roles cast members play should be determined by their talents and by their personalities. Who knows what a future cast member will be good at playing at this point.
I walked away from this SNL episode with very mixed feelings, especially on this sketch. What did you think? Feel free to share with me in the comments below!
Written by Shelby Rosten