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'Saturday Night Live,' Sasheer Zamata, and The No-Win, Very Bad Situation

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | January 8, 2014 |

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | January 8, 2014 |

If you’ve spent enough time on the Internet, you pretty much knew exactly what to expect of it as soon as Lorne Michaels added Sasheer Zamata — the first black woman in six years — to the cast of Saturday Night Live two days ago. Would the Internet celebrate the casting decision, applaud SNL for correcting an egregious wrong?

Of course not.

From — The Root :

I’m happy for Zamata. But forgive me if I’m still not doing the same mental backflips to celebrate SNL. They finally did the “right” thing, but it’s what they should have done years ago. Adding a black woman to a nationally televised show that pokes fun at American culture in which black women prominently exist should have been a no-brainer. As soon as Rudolph went in search of brighter horizons, the search should have been on to replace her with one or, yes, more than one black female comedian.

From Variety’s piece, Diversity Done Wrong: How ‘SNL’ Mishandled Casting a Black Woman:

“The primary problem is the move to demonstrate “SNL” isn’t prejudiced was in and of itself an act of prejudice. While “first black woman in five years” makes for a compelling soundbite, it’s not as if “SNL” has no African-Americans at all. But lost amid all this attention on African-American women is that there currently are no Hispanics or Asians of either gender on “SNL,” which has also been the subject of criticism.

Making finding a black female in particular a priority over other racial groups sets up an absurd hierarchy of diversity needs. Think of how much more sense it would have made if “SNL,” having felt so compelled to make such a public demonstration of its diversity outreach, hadn’t excluded anyone who wasn’t a black female and just made it a casting call about finding another funny person of any type.

I don’t disagree with either criticism — SNL did wait too long, and it did go about the casting process in the wrong way — but it’s also kind of unfortunate to get lambasted, even when the show is trying to do what’s right that it still gets criticized.

Tina Fey, at least, stuck up for Lorne Michaels, although her assessment that the show acted quickly may not jibe with the consensus opinion.

From THR:

After a lot of public criticism, SNL has added an African-American women to the cast. Do you think that criticism was warranted?

Tina Fey: I think Kerry Washington did such a great job on the [Nov. 2] show [in a sketch that addressed the controversy]. And you saw how great it was for Jay Pharoah to have someone playing Michelle Obama opposite [his President Obama]. So I feel like they registered that really quickly and they’ve acted on it really quickly.

I also liked Kevin Hart’s response on CNN. He downplayed the race aspect of it, and basically said, “Congratulations. She got the part, not because she was black, but because she was qualified,” although Variety would quickly point out that, though she may have been qualfied, she did get the part because she was black, because the only people that were auditioned were black females, which kind of creates a circular criticism.

All of which is to say, SNL was screwed either way. The only way it could’ve prevented this was to hire a black female five years ago, but what if the black females who auditioned legitimately weren’t as good as the others who auditioned, as Kenan Thompson had suggested?

There’s really only one way out of this, and that’s to take Amy Poehler’s very diplomatic response to the criticism surrounding the issue.

Ugh, I don’t want to talk about this. Pass.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.