Taari Coleman | Staff Writer
For the first time in six years, NBC’s Saturday Night Live (SNL) has added Black women to its roster. Last Monday, Leslie Jones and LaKendra Tookes joined the series team of writers, and Sasheer Zamata joined the cast as a featured player.
This move by Executive Director Lorne Michaels transpired shortly after the addition of six new cast members late in 2013, who were all white. Cast member Kenan Thompson’s interview with TV Guide, in which he blamed the absence of accurate representation in the show’s cast on the lack of quality Black comediennes, also sparked controversy: “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.” Thompson and cast member Jay Pharoah’s refusal to dress in drag to portray Black women characters also prompted the search for women of color to permanently add to staff.
SNL has been facing diversity issues for years. Before Monday, the series employed three actors of color out of 16 cast members, one a woman. A closer look at SNL’s writing staff and the changes that have occurred in the position of head writer revealed telling facts:
-Tina Fey was head writer of the series from 1999-2006.
-In 2007, Maya Rudolph left the show, becoming the last woman of color to be a part of the cast until 2009.
-In 2009, Iranian-American cast member Nasim Pedrad became SNL’s sole woman of color, retaining that title until last week.
It appears that Saturday Night Live lost its sense of diversity when Tina Fey left in 2006. Fey paved a path for women in comedy and television as a whole. Her departure from SNL took with it a strong backbone and eye for detail amongst the show. This is apparent, because this season, there are three women and one Black man that write for SNL. Despite the showrunner’s knowledge of this poor representation of women and people of color amongst staff, it took the show’s audience to highlight the need for change, on blogs and social media.
11 Black women auditioned for SNL in a special showcase held last month, including names like Nicole Byer of MTV’s Girl Code, and Azie Mira Dungie of the popular web show Ask a Slave. The additions of Jones, Tookes and Zamata to both the cast and the writing staff bring about exciting possibilities for future skits. Public response has been mixed, however. Some SNL fans are enthralled by the new members, many also have high, and perhaps unreasonable, hopes and standards for Jones, Tookes, and particularly, Zamata.
Zamata was previously a performer on School Night a variety show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York. CNN anchor Don Lemon said on an episode of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, “…it probably won’t be easy for Zamata — who, in the glaring spotlight that’s about to be trained on her, is going to have to be a whole lot funnier than she is black.” Bobby Moynihan, a repertory player on SNL since 2008, told The Daily Beast, “Geesh, people are really going to be picking her apart and scrutinizing that first episode aren’t they?…I thought I was nervous for the first episode back. She’s so great, though. So, so smart.”
There are still some viewers that are convinced and disappointed that Zamata was hired solely based on her race. At this point in time, diversity in the media is still in need of progression. Fans should sit back and wait to give Jones, Tookes and Zamata a chance to perform before making judgments, forming hasty opinions, or placing unrealistic expectations on these women.