Taari Coleman | Staff Writer
Weeks after Saturday Night Live’s (SNL) Kenan Thompson was interviewed by TV Guide, and implied that there were no Black women prepared to join the show’s cast, an episode aired with actress Kerry Washington as host.
The well known lead of ABC’s hit show Scandal, Washington performed well and was an interesting contribution to the show for the evening. As the first person of color to host this season, SNL used Washington’s presence as an opportunity to address a few of the concerns raised by Thompson’s TV Guide interview.
The opening sketch featured Washington and another of SNL’s cast members, Jay Pharaoh, portraying President Barack Obama and the First Lady in the Oval Office. During the scene, several African-American females come to visit the White House, all of whom must be played by Washington, because of Thompson’s refusal to do so weeks prior.
Interestingly, during Washington’s costume change from the First Lady to Oprah, a paragraph scrolled up the screen that stated, “The producers of SNL 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 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.”
What was not interesting, was the “number of Black women” Washington was asked to play. Whether an assistant to an over-energetic workout instructor, or a contestant on a parody of MTV’s Next, the characters Washington portrayed were not the most socially diverse.
SNL’s approach to its obvious race issue was humor; to round out the jokes, an appearance was even made by Al Sharpton, who is of course the spokesperson of all Black people. Sharpton arrived at the end of the sketch and said, “What have we learned from this sketch? As usual, nothing.”
In one fell swoop, SNL managed to deny all of Thompson’s claims that there were no Black women ready join the cast and crafted an episode designed to appeal majorly to an African-American audience. This makes many believe that the show, as well as the media as a whole, has no idea what to do with or how to portray Black women.
The November issue of Essence magazine included a survey of Black women and how they feel about their images in the media. According to Essence, most Black women saw the media display them as, “Gold Diggers, Modern Jezebels, Baby Mamas, Uneducated Sisters, Ratchet Women, Angry Black Women, Mean Black Girls, Unhealthy Black Women, and Black Barbies.” The survey also indicated that not only was negative interpretation of Black women seen twice as often as positive, but that most “African-American women reported higher levels of happiness with their natural beauty and appearance, plus their spiritual lives and religious commitments.”
Satire aside, the question that Saturday Night Live has jokingly tossed out on the table has become, where did this mold for the public’s “Black Woman” come from, and how do we go about breaking it?