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Friday, January 17, 2014

‘Saturday Night Live’ Seeks Diversity With New Hire

Cate Hellman)" href="//s3.amazonaws.com/media.wbur.org/wordpress/11/files/2014/01/0117_sasheer-zamata1.jpg">Comedienne Sasheer Zamata will make her debut as a Saturday Night Live cast member this weekend.  Zamata is the first African-American female cast member since Maya Rudolph's departure six years ago. (Cate Hellman)

Comedienne Sasheer Zamata will make her debut as a Saturday Night Live cast member this weekend. Zamata is the first African-American female cast member since Maya Rudolph’s departure six years ago. (Cate Hellman)

This weekend, “Saturday Night Live” will debut its newest cast member, Sasheer Zamata. Zamata is the first African-American female hire in six seasons — since the departure of Maya Rudolph in 2007.

The mid-season hire has drawn lots of attention, coming on the heels of an interview SNL cast member Kenan Thompson did with TV Guide magazine, in which he said he would no longer be playing female roles, and if the show wanted African-American female characters, they could ask fellow cast member Jay Pharoah. Thompson went on to say that the show lacked an African-American female cast member because comediennes who had applied were not “ready” for the likes of SNL.

Pharoah responded saying there are plenty of comediennes out there, and SNL needed to do what it had been promising for years: hire an African-American female cast member.

Secret auditions for only African-American comediennes were held, but no one from the bunch was hired.

Critics have called the move a poor diversity practice on SNL’s part. But others are concerned about something else: the cloud this has put over Zamata’s debut and the pressure she will face on Saturday night.

Zamata is the fifth African-American female to be part of SNL’s cast in 39 seasons. There has never been a Asian or Latina woman in the cast.

Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with Jet Magazine editor-in-chief Mitzi Miller about SNL’s diversity woes.

Interview Highlights: Mitzi Miller

On her disappointment in SNL

“The way it was handled — the midseason hire, then not-so-secret audition, then not using someone from the auditions, and the rush to hire two women of color to become writers — although ultimately it may help, it was a complete debacle.”

“I can’t really give them credit for this. It seems like they were making a point, like ‘Fine, here you go, we’ve done this.’ You don’t get lauded for doing things begrudgingly, and that’s what this feels like.”

On her concerns for Zamata

“I want this young lady to succeed. Our entire community wants her to succeed, because if she’s talented, then she deserves that, and we want to get behind her. But she’s always going to carry the stigma of, ‘You only got hired, you only got brought on, because of the color of your skin. And that’s not fair to anyone. This was a publicity stunt, it backfired, and now people are uncomfortable. And the bad thing is that this young lady is going to bear the brunt of it for the rest of her time there. No matter how successful she goes on to be, people are going to remember how she got hired. That’s going to be part of her history now.”

On the roles she’d like to see Zamata portray

“Personally, I don’t want them to skewer themselves over this. What I would like to see is her fully integrated into a different type of role. I would love to see her in a skit playing just a soccer mom — not a white soccer mom, just a soccer mom, as opposed to the hood chick or a Michelle Obama or an Oprah. I would love to see her just play a woman. If they’re able to integrate her into roles that are wonderful and funny that are not color attached, that would be a win for me.”

Video: When Kerry Washington was a guest on SNL, the show poked fun at its lack of diversity by asking her to play three different African-American women in one skit.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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