And (UPDATE) newest staff members, two black female writers.
I didn’t want to have a lot of words on this, since everyone else will, but people have been asking my opinion on it, so here are my thoughts on Sasheer Zamata being cast as SNL’s newest
token black cast member– black female comedian (neither is much better is it?). I had more thoughts than I thought I would.
I know nothing about this girl, so this opinion has little to do with her or her comedy style. I sincerely hope she is great and has a great time and it leads her, whenever she is ready, to bigger and better things. But SNL hasn’t solved the problem. This hire really will only highlight more problems. What about comedians of other races? Will SNL only cave to include an Indian or an Asian after those communities raise an uproar? What about SNL’s non-acting writing staff (the cast and featured players aren’t the only writers, as far as I understand–perhaps I am wrong), how diverse is that group? Is the placement of this hire a ratings stunt for the traditionally slow month of January?
I worry also about featured player dynamics now that Sasheer has been chosen. The newbies on SNL are all currently fighting to get as much sketch/screen time as the main cast. Is Sasheer on featured player level, or main cast level? Either way, the show is gonna have to use her often, if only to prevent backlash of, “oh you hired her but don’t let her do anything.” Hopefully this opens up the writers’ sketch ideas in what they can include (non-drag Oprah and Michelle Obama will be a nice change of pace), but will those other writer’s write appropriate sketches for a black character?Some of Kerry Washington’s sketches were seen as problematic, if not on their own, but mostly because the issue was so hot then. If the show was known to have black writers/cast members as apart of the team, those sketches might not have had such unfortunate implications. To be specific, I’m thinking of the fact that Kerry played a lot of “ghetto” girls in her sketches, even the digital short.
Part of Jay Pharaoh’s failure as a successful main cast member is that he did great impressions, but once he did them, what was left? The ones we’ve seen become unfunny if done every time you’re in a sketch. His original work left much to be desired. Will Sasheer be relegated to those kinds of characters–ghetto girls and black female celebrities–without allowing her to broaden her range and play the straight man in a sketch or play a (quirky) character that has no ethnic implications?
Only time will tell. All I know is that Sasheer’s first (and probably second) episodes will be some of the highest of the season–the normal crowd will be watching, as well as critics (both positive and negative) of the choice, as well as “Black Twitter,” which has shown itself to be a force to reckon with. The black television audience is larger than networks give us credit for and the success of Scandal and even Sleepy Hollow have shown that black women will watch a television show with a black female character (even if just to hate on it) because we are so starved for representation. The rest is up to the writing, which SNL has been suffering with in the past, but hopefully some new blood will raise the quality of the writing as well.
UPDATE: http://splitsider.com/2014/01/snl-adds-two-black-female-writers/ SNL has also hired two black female writers LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones, to add to the staff. This certainly alleviates concerns about the treatment or Sasheer’s characters. As long as they can 1. fight to shut down sketches with unfortunate implications and 2. not be sidelined to only write sketches Sasheer is in… but right now, SNL is seeing our concerns and circumventing them, so here’s to hoping! Even more reason to watch SNL when it returns… They really will be some of the highest rated of the season I am sure.