Kerry Washington To Host SNL Amid Cast Controversy

It’s just been announced that Kerry Washington- star of the wildly popular ABC show Scandal as well as leading lady in movies that include The Last King of Scotland and Ray- has been tapped to host Saturday Night Live this November.

The decision was made weeks ago but the announcement comes at a point when the show’s cast has been engaged in a public discussion about its lack of black female cast members.

While SNL has long been criticized for its lack of diversity- this specific controversy began when the show hired six new cast members this season- none of whom were black females.  What makes this particularly problematic is that there have only been 4 black female cast members in SNL’s 39 seasons and they include: Yvonne Hudson, Danitra Vance, Ellen Cleghorne and Maya Rudolph.  The current cast of 16 currently boasts 3 actors of color: Kenan Thompson, Jay Pharaoh and Nasim Pedrad who is Iranian-American.

This dynamic prompted Jay Pharaoh to reveal in an interview with The Grio that he’s taken it upon himself to try to recruit a female black cast member with his sights set on one woman in particular, stating:

Her name is Darmirra Brunson…Why do I think she should be on the show? Because she’s black first of all, and she’s really talented. She’s amazing. She needs to be on SNL. I said it. And I believe they need to follow up with it like they said they were going to do last year.

When asked about Pharaoh’s remarks, the show’s other black actor, Kenan Thompson, weighed in with his own thoughts:

It’s just a tough part of the business. Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.

When asked how SNL would portray famous black women he continued:

I don’t know. We just haven’t done them. That’s what I’m saying. Maybe [Pharaoh] will do it or something, but even he doesn’t really want to do it.

Thompson has since been under fire for his remarks.

The trend isn’t specific to just new cast member, as summarized by USA Today pulling from a story:

Of the 90 episodes the show has aired since Season 35, only two black women (and four women of color in total) have hosted: Gabourey Sidibe (April 2010) and Maya Rudolph (February 2012), along with Latinas Jennifer Lopez and Sofia Vergara. And yet during this period, Miley Cyrus has hosted twice, as have January Jones, Taylor Lautner and Eli Manning.

Here’s my take:

I don’t think SNL should hire a black woman cast member just to have a black woman cast member.  They should hire her- like anyone else- for being funny and talented and good enough to be on the show.  That said, I don’t think that the fact that black women make up 2.9% of the show’s cast in the history of its existence is a reflection on the comedic chops of black women.  It’s a reflection on the show’s higher ups failing to look hard enough for a diverse cast.

You have to get in the room to audition and if someone can’t get in the room then they can’t audition.  If that’s the case, then I think that it’s up to the higher ups at SNL to leave the room and go find them.  Their failure to do so is lazy and the audience suffers for it.  It’s embarrassing that SNL is in a position where Kenan Thompson is speculating about the need to put a dress on himself or the other black guy when there are incredible women of color putting forth incredible performances on TV.  You don’t actually have to look much further than the cast of Orange is the New Black to see what happens when you search for talent– Danielle Brooks, Samira Wiley, Laverne Cox, Vicky Jeudy and Uzo Aduba are all breakout stars!  They got to showcase their talent because someone thought to look for them.

W. Kamau Bell, host of FX’s show Totally Biased sums it up in this terrific piece from Salon on race and comedy responding to the sentiments that underlie Kenan Thompson’s remarks by noting that folks who think that the lack of diversity is a reflection of a lack of talent are looking at the “country club” pool as opposed to the “public pool”.

I’m excited to see Kerry Washington hosting SNL in November.  I’ll tune in and I’ll be rooting her on– but I’ll be even more excited when the act of selecting a black woman to host SNL isn’t a victory in light of controversy but just a day in the life.

Photo by Rex Sorgatz under Creative Commons license

14 Responses to "Kerry Washington To Host SNL Amid Cast Controversy"
Brian Sonenstein | Thursday October 17, 2013 02:04 pm 1

Excellent post; thank you Sara

JoeBuck | Thursday October 17, 2013 02:16 pm 2

Jessica Williams is awesome, and she’s on a much better comedy show.

ADC14 | Thursday October 17, 2013 02:32 pm 3

Actually I think they SHOULD hire a black female because she is black. I don’t watch SNL anymore because they do not reflect America’s diverse population. They are a number of black female comedians who SNL could have hired long ago. I think the problem is they “black” women aren’t phtogenic enough for them. Who are they kidding?

stevelaudig | Thursday October 17, 2013 02:46 pm 4

“Because she’s black [1] first of all, and she’s [2] really talented.”

Rarely is racism or racial preferencing [1] stated so clearly. First of all, race. haven’t watched snl in years so no dog in this fight, but it isn’t a private fight so anyone can join.

ThingsComeUndone | Thursday October 17, 2013 02:55 pm 5

While SNL has long been criticized for its lack of diversity

For decades since the freakin 70′s!

ThingsComeUndone | Thursday October 17, 2013 03:00 pm 6

I don’t think SNL should hire a black woman cast member just to have a black woman cast member. They should hire her- like anyone else- for being funny and talented and good enough to be on the show. That said, I don’t think that the fact that black women make up 2.9% of the show’s cast in the history of its existence is a reflection on the comedic chops of black women. It’s a reflection on the show’s higher ups failing to look hard enough for a diverse cast.

Lets stop being polite Lorne Michaels is a racist there are no funny African American women and there have been only 4 since the 70′s they could find is their defense?
The left has been giving S@L a pass for way to long.

ThingsComeUndone | Thursday October 17, 2013 03:01 pm 7

Has Eddie Murphy ever came back to the show?

ThingsComeUndone | Thursday October 17, 2013 03:02 pm 8

Oh a nice to meet you Sara hope Lisa is feeling well.

ThingsComeUndone | Thursday October 17, 2013 03:06 pm 9

Rarely is racism or racial preferencing [1] stated so clearly.

Racial preference stated so clearly 4 African American women since the 70′s I think its clear S@L has a policy of racial discrimination in their hiring would the Left put up with this shit if it were anyone else?
They hire just enough to avoid a lawsuit thats it.

normanb | Thursday October 17, 2013 03:20 pm 10

Thanks. Interesting story. Interesting Comments.

SNL is not Left like it was at some periods. I think I’m in the Left, and I don’t want to cut any slack to anyone on Human Rights. Better fly right correctly, or they’re gonna hear about it.

(The spelling in the story may have been auto-corrected, but Jay spells his name Pharoah, not like the Egyptian monarch.)

onitgoes | Thursday October 17, 2013 03:34 pm 11

Agree with TCU, this has been an issue from the beginning of the show. SNL has also been criticized, earlier on, for the small percentage/number of AA/minority/of color men, as well, albeit it appears Lorne Michaels/whomever has gotten “better” in that regard.

Lorne also didn’t hire a lot of women (of whatever ethnic background) for some period of years – I think more towards the late ’80s or early ’90s, but I believe that also improved over time (there were some very excellent female cast in the early days).

I dunno. I never watch SNL anymore. It’s aimed at the younger generations, which is fair enough, so mostly the humor – such as it is – seems either to fly over my head or fall flat.

Anyway, unsurprised that Lorne Michaels hasn’t gotten offa his kiester & made the show more diverse. It’s always been white guys world there, IMO.

ackack | Thursday October 17, 2013 04:39 pm 12

Jay Pharaoh is a poor source for comedy judgment.

The NEXT time he does something funny, will be the FIRST time.

This season has been mostly not very good, so it’s not simply alack of diversity that is the problem.

gmoke | Thursday October 17, 2013 10:14 pm 13

“Known for her Coneheads sketches and Weekend Update anchoring, [Jane] Curtin said that the women writers on the show were often unable to contribute their work thanks to sabotage by the show’s men. Especially breakout star John Belushi.

“‘Their battles were constant. They were working against John, who said women are just fundamentally not funny,’ Curtin said. ‘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.’”

SNL from the very beginning was tough on women. It also has been tough on non-white people.

Should they have more diversity in their on-air (and backstage) staff. Sure.

But, fundamentally, they should learn how to be funny. Right now they are playing not even second fiddle but third oboe to Stewart and Colbert.

coolblue71 | Friday October 18, 2013 05:48 pm 14

Thanks for that, gmoke!

I guess John Belushi is where he belongs.

Now as for this topic … it is failure on the part on Saturday Night Live. There’s no way around that. This series premiered when Gerald Ford was the 38th president of the United States!

Years ago, it was reported that SNL is a boys’ club. In the 1990s, there were comic actresses who could have been hired but backed out, because they knew there was the game. They chose not lower themselves by playing games with SNL, which has spent many of its 38 years struggling to remain relevant in between successful periods.

None of this should surprise people. It may seem to be laziness. But it’s more about “This is how we do business. This is how we do Saturday Night Live.” In other words: “Screw you, all you African-American women!”

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