Kerry Washington hosted “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, stepping in to do what only a few Black women have done on the show – play a Black woman.
“SNL“ has been under fire recently for its lack of diversity. Rather than shrink from the comments, Saturday’s show, featuring the “Scandal” star as the first lady, a jealous girlfriend, Miss Uganda and others, was an open acknowledgement of the critiques.
In September, “SNL” announced six new cast members – five white men, and one woman, Noël Wells, who is reportedly of Tunisian and Hispanic descent. The new additions brought their total cast to 16, including two Black men — Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah, one Iranian-American woman, Nasim Pedrad, and zero Black women.
The show is no stranger to diversity critiques, but complaints reached a crescendo after comments by Pharoah and Thompson were revealed. When asked about the show’s absence of Black women, Thompson told TV Guide, “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.”
Pharoah, who spoke to The Grio, named one he thinks is ready: Darmirra Brunson. He called on “SNL” producers to follow up on the “amazing” actress who is currently employed by OWN. But like Thompson, Pharoah said the business is a difficult one. “Some people choke up. Some people burn their bridges by saying things they shouldn’t say either.”
“Saturday Night Live” has had four Black women cast members in its 38-year history. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, founder Lorne Michaels said he is looking for Black women. “It’s not like it’s not a priority for us.”
Although “SNL” currently has no Black women in the cast, the show has featured spoofs of Black women – they’ve just been played by the men. Something Thompson said he’s no longer willing to do.
With Washington hosting the show, “SNL” addressed the criticism head on. In the cold open, Washington as Michelle Obama, stops by the Oval Office to visit her husband, President Obama (Pharoah). He is happy to see her, noting it seems to have been years since they were last together. That comment was a nod to former cast member Maya Rudolph. She was the last person to play the first lady when she left the show in 2007.
The President’s press secretary then announces the arrival of Oprah, who is early for a State dinner and wants to say hi. Washington realizes she must now play Oprah and dashes out for a wardrobe change.
While she’s off stage, a note scrolls on screen. In it, “SNL” producers offer a comedic apology to Washington for the number of Black women she will be asked to play that evening.
Washington reappears as Oprah, only to disappear again when Beyoncé is announced. In her absence, six white men arrive, all purportedly Matthew McConaugheys there for the dinner as well.
Reverend Al Sharpton steps in and quips, “What have we learned from this skit? As usual, nothing.” He then states the iconic line: “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”