By now you’ve probably heard a little something about the heat Lorne Michaels has been receiving since (and really, before) Kerry Washington hosted the sketch comedy show last Saturday. The cold open poked fun at the recent press about the lack of black women who’ve been cast on the show. Saturday Night Live’s current male black cast members, Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson, have both famously refusing to dress in drag, stating that it’s time a black female is cast. While the show’s opening sketch was written in a light-hearted fashion, it seems to have spun further investigative efforts and even more articles about the show’s “lack of a diversified cast.”
I understand the benefits and importance of diversity. I chose to move to New York City from a small suburb in the midwest, after-all. I think a group of very diverse people, with different backgrounds of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, political preference and social class can bring a lot of opinions and creative ideas to a collaborative art-form, like the show. I, however, do not think affirmative action is a necessary practice in the casting of SNL.
Hiring someone “because she’s black, first of all” as Jay Pharaoh suggests is not really the answer to solving “the show’s diversity problem.” First of all, I think it should be noted that out of Season 39’s sixteen cast members, there are: six women, one gay woman, one Iranian-America, a few Jews and two black men. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. But diversity is not just a black and white issue. What about Asian-Americans? Hispanics? Gay men? Buddhists? AND out of all the shows on network television (i.e. How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, CSI) does SNL really deserve all of this negative press? IMO, it seems that the casting has always been based largely on talent. I choose to stay under the impression Lorne actively searches for the funniest sketch writers/performers that exist, and remains impartial to any of the aforementioned factors that could be an outlet of discrimination.
At the end of the day, people watch SNL to be entertained. Hiring funny people is priority. This season, it happened to be 83% white dudes. Oh well. They’ve had cast members and hosts of all kinds in the past, and that will continue. I’m sure most of us agree that it would be nice for ALL network shows to be a little more representative of what this fabulous melting pot actually looks like. We’ll get there, some day. But in the intermediate period, I think we should all have a little more faith in Lorne. He did just air a huge parody of his critiqued casting last Saturday. Call me crazy, but I think he knows what he’s doing.