Why Saturday Night Live's Diversity Problem Isn’t Simply Solved With a New Black Cast Member

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Of course, many might argue that this is a problem of Hollywood itself, not Saturday Night Live. There simply aren’t as many minority players to parody. But not everything on Saturday Night Live hinges on a pop culture icon – what about the sketches that depict things in real life: teams, workplaces, schools, families? Are we all white? Are we all surrounded by white people in our everyday lives?

The obvious answer is no.

Aside from the obvious problems with showing diversity on screen – in character appearance – it’s also a problem of creating diverse scenes, with different cultural parodies, in the first place.

And like all content inclusion, a lack of diversity creates a circular problem: there’s no one who can give voice to these characters, so scenes aren’t created. When scenes aren’t created, and SNL sketches continue as is—gaining laughs, the impetus to hire diverse actors and writers diminishes. It’s funny enough, right?

And while the writers create the content, sure, so do the cast members. And the cast members also play it with the nuances and improv that go into creating a scene and character on live TV. Both of those things are based on the performer’s experiences and backgrounds. So yes, a person with a Latino cultural background can add a dimension to a Latino character that one without that background probably can’t. Would the show be funnier? I don’t know. We don’t know what more diverse actors could bring to the show because they really haven’t been given a shot.

But with comedy and diversity on screen, it doesn’t just end by filling a vacancy. That’s called tokenism. We need various voices to be heard. America isn’t one color, one religion, one language or one ethnicity. We’re Arab, Native American, Indian. We’re Hindi, Christian, Jewish. We’re Spanish, English, Russian. We’re Black, Asian, Latino. It isn’t just about one thing – it’s about recognizing that different backgrounds only enrich the comedy being produced, and does so in a way that rings true to all those who want to laugh. We all need to be part of the conversation. Otherwise, we’re left with comedy that doesn’t speak to a vast majority of us, failing to capture audiences and to recognize and highlight gaining minority influences in pop culture – and that is nothing to laugh about. 

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Samantha Leal, Senior Editor

Sam edits and oversees all site content with a focus on fashion, beauty and lifestyle. When she's not working, you can find her watching way too many YouTube videos and reading (YA novels, mostly). Follow her on Twitter @samanthajoleal.

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