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

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Finally, this week they announced the hire of Sasheer Zamata, a UCB Theater veteran and all around funny girl. It is the first female black cast member since Maya Rudolph, who left in 2007, after seven years on the show. Since its inception in 1975, SNL has only had four black women performers, now taking that total up to five. (Yvonne Hudson was the first black female feature player, hired in 1981. Danitra Vance was the first SNL repertory player in 1985. Ellen Cleghorne was the second black female repertory member, hired in 1991, and Rudolph rounds out the fourth.)

Zamata’s hiring is a positive step towards inclusivity, and the fact that it was done by mounting pressure from the public sends a message that viewers can affect change. But after the cheering for Lorne Michaels and SNL is done, you have to wonder–what about other groups whose lack of representation is clear? Since 1975, there have only been two cast members with East or South Asian descent:  Fred Armisen (who is one-quarter Japanese and is also of Latino descent) and Rob Schneider (who is one-quarter Filipino). There have been no Asian women.

As for Latinos, there have been two: Horatio Sanz and Fred Armisen. There have been no Latinas. (Which, begs perhaps another issue: where are all the women?)

Hopefully, we can see why this is absurd. How many characters have we missed out on lampooning because there was simply no one to play them convincingly? Think about it: From 2007 until now, SNL has lacked the ability to successfully represent Oprah, Michelle Obama or Beyonce. What kind of world has SNL been living in?

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