Diversity Done Wrong: How ‘SNL’ Mishandled Casting a Black Woman

Sasheer Zamata: 'SNL' Black Female Casting

Opinion: Hiring Sasheer Zamata was a PR stunt that is discriminatory in and of itself

NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” is being lauded this week for casting an African-American woman for the first time in many years.

But the hiring of Sasheer Zamata leaves as much to condemn as there is to commend.

Yes, there’s insufficient diversity of all kinds on TV. Anything that remedies that shortcoming deserves kudos. The prevailing whiteness of the medium even as the United States continues to be transformed by profound demographic trends is just plain ridiculous.

But there are right ways and wrong ways to fix the situation, and Zamata’s casting amounts to blatant tokenism. Not calling out “SNL” for its sin would only encourage other shows  to follow a bad example.

Why SNL Did This Now
The timing of Zamata’s ascension is curious: Not only is it unusual for “SNL” to make a cast addition midseason, it’s hardly coincidental the hire comes on the heels of criticism regarding the absence of an African-American woman on the series from “SNL” cast members Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson. That in turn spurred other critics to voice their displeasure.

As if “SNL” couldn’t make its concern over the criticism evident enough, it did so last year in a funny, though painfully self-conscious sketch starring an African-American guest host, “Scandal” star Kerry Washington.

It’s hard not to conclude “SNL” feared that there was a backlash building at a vulnerable time. The program has been struggling to find its footing during a rebuilding season after several years of key cast defections.

An Overreaction Based on Overestimation of Criticism
But let’s not confuse some isolated complaints with a bona fide groundswell of negativity, like the tsunami that’s enveloped the Washington Redskins over its team name. PR types can argue “SNL” moved proactively to head off any chance of that happening, but here’s the thing: That wasn’t going to happen.

“SNL” is one of these cultural institutions that is criticized for, well, everything, at any given time, but typically goes about its business. Statements of apology are very few and far in between.

‘SNL’ Made a Spectacle of Its Diversity Efforts
Which is why what executive producer Lorne Michaels & Co. chose to do next created a false urgency: “SNL” proceeded to orchestrate a midseason casting initiative strictly for African-American women, culminating in Michaels going public with the effort in a New York Times story.

Now you can argue in this day and age that it would have been impossible for “SNL” to conduct such a search without being noticed. But the minute the show threw open its doors to the process–another rarity–this became a spectacle. It wasn’t just that “SNL” wanted to right a wrong; it wanted to be seen as righting a wrong.

And that has become a diversity travesty.

The Additional Casting Measure Was Discriminatory
The primary problem is the move to demonstrate “SNL” isn’t prejudiced was in and of itself an act of prejudice. While “first black woman in five years” makes for a compelling soundbite, it’s not as if “SNL” has no African-Americans at all. But lost amid all this attention on African-American women is that there currently are no Hispanics or Asians of either gender on “SNL,” which has also been the subject of criticism.

Making finding a black female in particular a priority over other racial groups sets up an absurd hierarchy of diversity needs. Think of how much more sense it would have made if “SNL,” having felt so compelled to make such a public demonstration of its diversity outreach, hadn’t excluded anyone who wasn’t a black female and just made it a casting call about finding another funny person of any type.

Instead, “SNL’s” micro-targeting of a subsegment of the population comes off like a staged gesture, noblesse oblige intended to be perceived as “the right thing” more so than being that in actuality.

What’s all the more absurd is that “SNL” could have offered some justification for its racial targeting. What was interesting about the the New York Times article was that Michaels felt the need to make clear that there was no specific need to bring in an African-American woman when it came to playing characters or impersonations devoted to black women like, say, Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey.

Avoiding a Rationale for Singling out Black Women Was Pointless 
It’s strange that Michaels would eschew that as justification, presumably out of concern that he would be seen as skewering African-American targets. But if Michaels is saying there’s no particular reason to bring in black female talent, there’s no rationale for slighting other racial groups.

Strangely, “SNL” didn’t want to be seen as trying to become less predominantly white in general; the show was fixated on one type for no apparent reason.

The criticism of the absence of black women on “SNL” presumably rests on two notions: One, there’s a wealth of black female talent being denied arguably TV’s most prized comedic showcase; second, lacking female talent keeps “SNL” from adequately satirizing a world in which there are many prominent black women.

This is where there’s a distinction to be made between the criticism of “SNL’s” whiteness and that of fictional TV shows like HBO’s “Girls.” The latter became a lightning rod because the lily-white world that series presents seems inconsistent with the incredible racial diversity of the region in which it is set, Brooklyn, N.Y.

But when it comes to “SNL,” its detractors may not end up liking what representation means on a show meant for mockery. Whether its fictional caricatures or impersonating real-life figures, the risk for increased stereotyping is real.

“SNL’s” critics should recall the aphorism, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Zamata Is Left Tainted
You have to wonder how Zamata herself is feeling right now. Because no matter how talented this young woman is, the special circumstances surrounding her hire put an asterisk next to her name that wouldn’t have to be there had she just been brought in during the traditional casting process.

If it took a supplemental measure for her to make the team, a nagging unanswered question is left looming over her: Did “SNL” relax its strict standards for admission in fear of public pressure?

Where is the Real Reform for ‘SNL’?
It’s not as if Michaels is saying the opposite, which is that there is some kind of fundamental flaw in his casting process because he hasn’t made public any sense of needing to rectify that process. The existing system wasn’t reformed, just patched with a one-time compensatory move.

If “SNL” standards were relaxed, then the show may have very well added someone who really isn’t up to snuff, which only sets up Zamata for failure. It’s an additional pressure neither she nor the show needs because if she can’t hack it, this special initiative is going to look misguided in retrospect.

“SNL” can be a tough place for talent to get a toehold; the added pressure on proving she merited the special circumstances that brought her into the fold isn’t going to help her any.

Cowed by criticism, “SNL” rushed to plant a black woman in its midst and made that happen as transparently as possible for the world to see its responsiveness. If the essence of that action was a pre-emptive exercise in crisis management, the significance of its outcome is worth questioning.

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  1. Jason says:

    Dear Andrew,

    You are such an asshole to downplay this aspiring young woman’s dream to be an SNL cast member. Thank you for your efforts to change the world, one whiny critique at a time.

  2. Bob says:

    The author’s thesis is based on at least one completely faulty premise: that it is “unusual for “SNL” to make a cast addition midseason”. Between 1977 (Bill Murray) and 2012 (Kate McKinnon) there have been 46 SNL cast members who joined in mid-season, including cast members such as Eddie Murphy, Mike Meyers, Adam Sandler, Molly Shannon, and Kristen Wiig.

    Kate McKinnon (first episode: April 7, 2012)
    Abby Elliott (first episode: November 15, 2008)
    Michaela Watkins (first episode: November 15, 2008)
    Casey Wilson (first episode: February 23, 2008)
    Kristen Wiig (first episode: November 12, 2005)
    Jason Sudeikis (first episode: May 7, 2005)
    Rachel Dratch (first episode: October 23, 1999)
    Maya Rudolph (first episode: May 6, 2000)
    Chris Kattan (first episode: March 16, 1996)
    Colin Quinn (first episode: November 18, 1995)
    Fred Wolf (first episode: November 11, 1995)
    Molly Shannon (first episode: February 25, 1995)
    Mark McKinney (first episode: January 14, 1995)
    Morwenna Banks (first episode: April 8, 1995)
    Norm Macdonald (first episode: October 2, 1993)
    Jay Mohr (first Episode: October 9, 1993)
    Sarah Silverman (first Episode: October 9, 1993)
    Michael McKean (first Episode: March 12, 1994)
    Beth Cahill (first Episode: November 16, 1991)
    Melanie Hutsell (first Episode: November 16, 1991)
    Tim Meadows (first episode: February 9, 1991)
    Adam Sandler (first episode: February 9, 1991)
    Rob Schneider (first episode: October 27, 1990)
    David Spade (first episode: November 10, 1990)
    Julia Sweeney (first episode: November 10, 1990)
    Mike Myers (first episode: January 21, 1989)
    Ben Stiller (first episode: March 25, 1989)
    A. Whitney Brown (first episode: February 22, 1986)
    Al Franken (first episode: March 22, 1986)
    Don Novello (first episode: November 23, 1985)
    Dan Vitale (first episode: November 23, 1985)
    Jim Belushi (first episode: October 22, 1983)
    Yvonne Hudson (first episode: December 20, 1980)
    Matthew Laurance (first episode: December 20, 1980)
    Laurie Metcalf (first episode: April 11, 1981)
    Emily Prager (first episode: April 11, 1981)
    Eddie Murphy (first episode: December 6, 1980)
    Tim Kazurinsky (first episode: April 11, 1981)
    Robin Duke (first episode: April 11, 1981)
    Ann Risley (final episode: March 7, 1981)
    Tony Rosato (first episode: April 11, 1981)
    Peter Aykroyd (first episode: November 17, 1979)
    Brian Doyle-Murray (first episode: December 15, 1979)
    Tom Schiller (first episode: December 15, 1979)
    Alan Zweibel (first episode: December 15, 1979)
    Bill Murray (first episode: January 15, 1977)

  3. bohemienneprincesse says:

    Ana Lia’s comments are on point. I hope Mr. Wallenstein take them to heart; it’s ridiculous to write a post that suggests, in response to SNL’s self criticism of its lack of black female comedians, with a casting call that included everyone.

    A call to have a search that includes everyone (which is the case if western Europeans are included) = doing nothing about gaining diversity. People who protest what they consider privileging for minorities NEVER are the ones that address the numerous disadvantages that these groups are subjected to.

    Television programming includes white males disproportionately to everyone else; surely this phenomenon didn’t occur by chance. Perhaps Mr. Wallenstein will sharpen his focus (skill and subject) on an issue that has not been addressed sufficiently.

  4. Anna Lia says:

    I am not at all surprised that a white male journalist would write this article. I suppose it never occured to you that most people of color see mediocre white male employees in just about every profession as affirmative action hires because you are so comfortable with the notion of white privilege. Do you really think that any person of color anywhere thinks that white Americans deserve all of the high-ranking positions they hold almost exlcusively because they have white skin? Do you feel sorry for all the poor white people who were hired just because they were white?

    Did it every occur to you that SNL’s black, female viewers were deeply offended by watching Keenan in a dress (as millions of us are by buffoons like Tyler Perry and Eddy Murphy in drag)? Of course not, the only issue you can think of here is that Zamata might not be qualified. A very typical white male view. I wonder how many of people of color applied for your job and were turned down because they did not possess the primary requirement for holding a professional position in America–white skin.

    In case you missed my point, let me be clear: the most prominent form of affirmative action in America is the practice of giving jobs to white people simply because they are white, not because they are highly-qualified. Perhaps your next column should be about that.

    Many of the white comedians hired by SNL were visibly green in thier first few months on the show, but I never heard anyone question whether they were ready. As a matter of fact, Jay Pharoh (a black male)was clearly uncomfortable in skits where he could not do an impression in his first season on the air, so did you question why he was hired?

    I doubt it. Take a diversity seminar Mr. Wallenstein. You clearly have problems with women of color.

    • stephanie says:

      Very well said. I hope this editior in chief has african american women on his staff so he can learn before he pens such nonsense again. If he doesn’t this is on deaf ears and Variety needs to look at that.

      • Donella says:

        “I wonder how many of people of color applied for your job and were turned down because they did not possess the primary requirement for holding a professional position in America–white skin.”

        I get the feeling that the number is very high. Wallenstein would probably wake up in the middle of the night screaming if he thought too long about how many minority backs he stood on to get HIS job though.

  5. Donella says:

    The author’s bad attitude towards Zamata is unfortunate and typical. White men consider all Black American women below them, undeserving of any reward, and “tainted.” Which is likely why Michelle Obama gets hazed daily.

    Lorne Michaels recruits his writers and performers from the most racially-diverse regions in the United States–New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Apparently, for the past five years, Michaels has found only White men and women in these cities to have any degree of talent.

    Hmmmm…. REALLY????

    I put forth that it is SNL that is tainted by White racial preference (and idea inbreeding) that has resulted in mediocrity and vanilla-flavored comedy that lacks the hipness and edginess enjoyed by MADTV, In Living Color, The Chris Rock Show, and The Chappelle Show.

    So why hire a Black female instead of a Latina or Asian female?

    Because most of the most powerful and identifiable women of color in the United States are Black, not Latina, or Asian, or Native American… starting with the First Lady of the United States.

    Read any industry trade on the most powerful women of influence in the United States and you’ll find Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce somewhere on that list.

    And since Sasheer will be receiving assists from two Black female writers, plus Jay Pharoah, plus Kenan Thompson, she will not have to face an all-White male writing staff and performers on her own.

    Get ready for amusing interpretations of Tyra Banks, Queen Latifah, Sherri Shepherd, Aisha Tyler, Rihanna, Nikki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Halle Berry, Kerry Washington, Michonne, Storm, Melissa Harris Perry, Shonda Rhimes, Star Jones, Wendy Williams, etc because they’re coming.

    And frankly, some of these celebrities are badly in need of mockery!

    So the author can maintain his bad attitude, or he and others like him can learn to share the world.

  6. NoneYaBidness says:

    The difference between ‘anyone else’ is that the statement alone sounds like someone removed from the meaning and impact of racism. Stop aligning black women with others. We aren’t others. Other women are celebrated and appreciated. We are the butt of jokes and rarely found attractive unless light skinned. SNL had black men playing black women. Two black men instead of casting one black woman. I understand Keenan because he’s established but the other guy? I don’t care what you think, saying that they couldn’t find a funny black woman is like saying they couldn’t find a black woman who can sing. We are multi talented and hella funny because humor comes from pain. So I don’t care why she’s there. I’ll support her. If you’re crying foul, then we’ve simply swapped places. Welcome to my world, squirrel.

  7. Corwin Stone says:

    Definitely good points. However, like many opportunities, you gotta be ready for your opportunity to shine. She got it and I look forward to Sasheer Zamata to take full advantage of this time and kicking some major boootaaay!

  8. Mobolaji says:

    I think you bring up a crucial point that I have not heard which is diversity should not be an afterthought but in fact a part of the actual structure of institutional hiring/casting such that it doesn’t call attention to the very fact that the need for diversity highlights the discriminatory nature of said institutions. If I haven’t confused you with my statement, then allow the strange casting midseason to do so. I am African and I certainly get what you are saying and am still proud that she has the opportunity to show her talent. We as African Americans are quite used to this sort of process of afterthought hiring and would prefer something different but it is unfortunately better than nothing.

  9. Bob Eicholtz says:

    she will forever be tagged as “token”. no matter how good she is. shame on SNL, you were at one time “cutting edge”. now? a bitch for politically correct

    • Anna Lia says:

      Are you a token Bob? How did you get your job? There is probably at least one Asian, Hispanic, or African American out there who can do your job better than you can, so as of now, YOU are a token.

    • Donella says:

      Tagged as token by YOU, Bob, which says more about your bad attitude than Sasheer’s hard work at earning her place in comedy.

    • bohemienneprincesse says:

      Bob, did you not watch the episode with Kerry Washington? She was selected for the same reason – African American woman, and she killed it!

      Poor reviews for several seasons motivated SNL to look at itself critically. Hence comedians and writers hired to provide a fresh perspective. I

  10. bohemienneprincesse says:

    Critical Thinking skills have certainly taken a hit.

    One commentator cited the Mexican-American War – a war that didn’t even last 2 years and was contained in northern Mexico – to slavery which began in the 17th century and didn’t end until the 19th century! Not to mention that America would not have been America without African slaves. Settlers tried other groups but weren’t successful – incarcerated whites, poor whites, and ethnicities, particularly the American Indian. In the end, it was Africa that provided the labor needed to build America. This is an indisputable fact.

    How does slavery relate to SNL – it doesn’t. The reason the search took place was to address a specific complaint – why aren’t there female Black comedians. (Another fact.) If Latinos or Asians or any other group has a complaint it is completely legitimate, regardless of their history in America, to pursue amends.

    The reason why Andrew Wallenstein is wrong is because he suggests that SNL goes through the pretense of the search being open to everyone when in fact they are only looking for a specific type. Sounds familiar? Anyone who has looked for a job has known when they have a serious chance or their application is simply protocol.

    I applaud SNL for correcting what many have voiced is a problem – that is Where are the black female comedians? They not only hired a black female comedian they also added not one but two black writers. From what we can tell SNL has done their part; the rest is on the new hires.

    Hey Andrew did you ask SNL about other ethnic groups before they began the search you now criticize? We know the answer, you don’t have to ‘fess up.

    • John says:

      The poster who mentioned the Mexican-American War did so in response to someone who was trying to claim that blacks suffered injustices exclusively. It is a valid point. Check your own “critical thinking skills.”

      • bohemienneprincesse says:

        John, I’m completely aware of DailyDealn – the commentator whom you are referring to. Again, critical thinking – does it really matter at what point I entered the conversation? I was pointing out the direction the conversation took and that this direction wasn’t relevant to what SNL was trying to accomplish. I understand why DailyDealn introduced this aspect however it’s difficult to make a cogent argument linking civil rights in this context as we saw with Andrew Wallenstein (columnist). All Andrew did was reveal his bias not a problem with SNL.

  11. Allison says:

    In my opinion, Lorne didn’t hire a black woman because he was afraid of the pressure.I think the folks at SNL try their best to respond to their fans’ wishes, like when the audience wanted Tina Fey to play Sarah Palin and they pretty much had to beg her to do it… or when SNL completely sucked in the mid 80’s and they fired most of the cast and writers. Either way, if they did or didn’t rush to hire a black woman, there would be controversy! I feel bad for the girl… :/

  12. Tom Dynes says:

    Wow, just imagine there was once a time when people were hired to be on SNL because they were actually funny…

  13. Allison Granted says:

    I’m sure if they hadn’t limited it to a black woman they would have totally NOT hired a white man or woman. Because as we all know, there are no biases when it comes to hiring the best person for the job. /sarcasm

  14. mikevo says:

    WAHH WAHHH WAHHH. These sorts of people can never be pleased. It’s more about feeling morally superior in their cause than it is about progress. The grievance industry has no righteous purpose, they thrive on never being satisfied.

  15. Megan says:

    Cool I hope this woman appreciates you marginalizing her accomplishment by calling it a publicity stunt. If she felt it was discriminatory towards her, surely she would not have participated!

  16. gcohaya says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with this piece! SNL’s methods of building “diversity” is more of a slap to the face than not having ethnic diversity in the first palce

  17. DailyDealn says:

    This writer is obviously white. Yes, blacks come before Asians & Hispanics. We are NOT all equal. Sorry you missed the memo but this country was built on the whipped backs & lynched bodies of blacks. Go see “12 Years A Slave” if you forgot. WE are a priority. We should always be a priority. No offense to the other races but America is not their home country nor has America used and sacrificed their race for the land. You should have more of a problem with whites still being 1st then who is 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. Get over it! j/s & watch the Nielsen ratings soar b/c of this controversy. That’s what Lorne Michaels really cares about!!! #AsHeShould #HeWon #StillWantMy40Acres&AMule

    • Ashley says:

      well…Irish and Italian people also worked tirelessly. Again read a book, or a coal mine death log. And, um, Native Americans anybody? — not even mentioned in the the friggin’ article. Also Sasheer Zamata is hilarious, you will love her, she can more than hack it…Buuuut at least 1000 other performers in New York of varied races and sexes could hack it as well.

    • Dave says:

      “nor has America used and sacrificed their race for the land.”

      Seriously, READ A BOOK.

    • Dave says:

      Please, for the love of God, pick up a history book, and learn about the ways that Asians and Hispanics also worked tirelessly, under a system of exploitation, to build America. This is not a matter of opinion. Your statements are simply false. Asians built the railroads, and huge sections of America were stolen from Mexico. Respectfully, you have no idea what you’re talking about, and it was incredibly ill-advised of you to spew out this ignorance and then link to your professional site. Oblivious, biased statements such as yours will damage your professional reputation and hinder your career.

      • TRISHA ICKES says:

        Given DailyDealn comments she has picked up a history book and has not selectively chosen what to cite as important. Blacks have contributed to the founding of the United States in a way that no other racial group can claim. There is no way to compare the exploitation of Asians to that of Blacks. Still, the issue isn’t about who should come first – too many centuries have passed for that to be a legitimate litmus test. The problem with your assessment is that you are suggesting that SNL pretend to open it up to everyone yet select a Black female. It’s refreshing that SNL stated – boldly – what most see as problematic and proceeded to fix that problem. Much cleaner than what you are suggesting.

        The problem here is YOU; clearly you have some issues around race and need to do some critical thinking. Still, thank you for the article. You are like so many people who aren’t sufficiently self aware to even know that they are racists – all of you know what you feel but you haven’t thought deeply enough about why you have reacted in such a manner. Good luck to you. (No sarcasm intended.)

    • Steve Johnson says:

      Wow. Wow. I think Sasheer Zamata has found her first SNL character. The script is already written!

      • Dave says:

        Trisha, I highly doubt that DailyDealn has picked up a history book, and I’m not sure that you have either. It’s quite easy to compare the suffering — because it’s perfectly comparable. Asians and Hispanics have historically been exploited, abused, and arbitrarily killed in precisely the same manner, and the scale of atrocities is in fact comparable when you take into account the Mexican-American War. Furthermore, DailyDealn says, “No offense to the other races but America is not their home country.” … really? It actually WAS the Mexicans’ country, indisputably, and it was taken from them. America was also Native Americans’ country. Please stop piling ignorance on top of ignorance. Many minorities have been badly mistreated throughout our history, including Jews and Catholics… “DailyDealn’s” attempt to declare that she possesses the most heinous historical suffering card is really ignorant, and to then extrapolate from there that blacks are somehow more American is, quite frankly, disgusting and racist.

  18. I wish that when publications assign writers to cover subject matter of this type, they would include writers who aren’t always white males. It really removes any validity from their articles. How can someone who has no true notion of racial stigma and diversity, except as an outsider, submit a quality opinion? Next!

  19. stephanie says:

    So the issue really isn’t that they hired a black female but that there is never any black women in the wings when an opportunity arises. Diversity is a business that shouldn’t be but a way of running a business naturally. Hence the importance of having the masses represented. Human resources must not be doing their job or are letting Lorne Michaels run things. The employee or potential employee is not being supported by the NBC management structure. It seems to be a pattern.

    • stephanie says:

      Well Jim..you got it easy! Good thing this article didn’t reflect the problems we are experiencing with the lack of diversity. There is nothing tricky about it. Include the masses and you won’t have to defend the fact that you never owned slaves.

  20. roland clark says:

    Who cares why they did it, they did

  21. Jim Turner says:

    “…there currently are no Hispanics or Asians of either gender on “SNL…” How will they remedy this? Do they have any gays or cripples or Muslims?

    • Lori Payne says:

      Wallenstein’s assumption that SNL ‘relaxed’ its casting standards is unfounded. Unless he is a member of the casting team at SNL or is very familiar with Ms. Zamata’s work, he is NO position to comment on any SNL casting ‘standards’.

  22. Jim Turner says:

    This diversity business is rather tricky.

  23. rudebaldguy says:

    It appears that not hiring black female actors for SNL is racist. But hiring black female actors for SNL is racist. Calvin and Augustine thought they had a handle on original sin. They were amateurs compared to this writer. Not only are the SNL suits racist sinners, any attempt at fixing their racism leads to deeper racist sin. And so on, ad infinitum.

  24. mharlem says:

    Is this Variety or Fox News? Your argument is so stale. Perhaps about 15 years ago it would have had some substance, but everything is so transparent today in the digital age. Lorne Michaels wasn’t born yesterday and neither was Sasheer Zamatta….everyone knew exactly what they were doing, and they have understood every cause-and-effect. It was masterful in its entirety precisely because everything was above board. You clearly don’t have many black friends or else you wouldn’t have written this. You write about this entire episode in terms of ulterior motives, of false promises, of back-room-wheeling-and-dealing, which ironically makes YOU look like the old fart.

  25. why do we always have to DEFINE humans by shades of skin or ethnicity? lets drop all such declaratives in our CIVILIZATION! its archaic and absurd!

  26. David says:

    Wow. Talk about being extremely negative when something positive happens.

  27. Its all about the demographic mix. If you look at the employment rate comparison in minority women & women you understand there is a disparity in the spending dollars available and then maybe you can understand why the network did not want to alienate this buying block of black women who spend more with the advertisers than men in the household. I sincerely hope the choice turns out well and she can make them laugh all the way to the bank. In addition I think they should have more diversity by having members on staff who join the cast occasionally; not to fill a quota but, to add more diversity to the cast from time to time. There are funny Asian & Latino comics as well who also need to show their talent as well.You can watch TV shows on your mobile @ Tvonthego.com on our mobile platform. The world is changing as we know it so lets make room for talent not just spaces.

  28. Dear Mr. Wallenstein:

    I just read your article/response to “Saturday Night Live’s” decision to hire an African-American female performer after a recent mountain of criticism. Your reaction to “SNL’s” decision disappoints me, Mr. Wallenstein. While you’re entitled to your opinion on how “SNL” handled the criticism it had received, I found your position — as someone who has been blessed to making a living as a tv writer in Hollywood for the last 20 years– to be an all to familiar one. The subtext of your opinion is this– “Although what “SNL” has been doing is not in the best interest of other talented female performers who are not White, don’t pick on “SNL”. Afterall, if there was a non-White female performer out there who was any good, “SNL” would’ve found that talented woman of color and put her on the show awhile ago. Even though what they’re doing may not be right, they shouldn’t be pressured to change.”

    Mr. Wallenstein, in my opinion, you are defending the wrong side of history. You have been in this business for a long time. You know that “merit”, as you say in the 27th paragraph of your article, is not the sole criteria for which jobs are procured in Hollywood. “Merit” is just one measure. Other factors also come into play, like friendship, likeability and cost. People don’t hire “the best man or woman for the job”, they usually hire “the best man or woman for the job that they know and like”,
    For 20 years, I have seen people of color overlooked in this town, for whatever reason, in favor of others who may or may not have “merited” their job. I have heard excuses– usually from agents, managers and executives who are not people of color– why their network comedies don’t employ any African-American writers. The presumption being that if there were any out there who were good enough to be on staff, they’d staff them. Anytime a show is all-White– whether behind or in front of the camera– the position of the people in charge (99.5% whom are White) always seems to be that the reason everything is so lily-White in 2014 is because they’re not enough qualified people of color to man these positions. Hollywood has kept this myth going longer than my 20 years working in it. The truth is, Mr. Wallenstein, you can find ore than one (or 10) qualified, experienced African-American writer, producer, director or performers throughout this town. You just have to want to find them..

    After a hail of very public criticism, “SNL” made it the show’s business to find and hire an African-American female comedic performer. They hired Sasheer Zamata, not just to appease their insightful critics, but to help the show. You make it seem as if they were in a van cruising along Madison Avenue, randomly spotted a Black woman window shopping in front of the Nike store, pulled her off the sidewalk and into the van, then immediately took her to SNL studios and put her in a skit that was already in progress. They auditioned Sasheer Zamata, interviewed her, then hired her. And Sasheer Zamata is not just some random Black woman they snatched off of the street and took to wardrobe. Her resume is consistent with your typical SNL performer, having honed her craft in live theater at New York’s prestigious Uptown Citizens Brigade not unlike an overwhelming majority of “SNL” past and present cast members who cut their teeth at Chicago’s Groundlings Theater. Ms. Zamata has even been on tv before as a series regualr– twice.

    Ok, so “Saturday Night Live” didn’t make her audition with Latino, Asian, handicapped, gay and other “minority” performers to get the gig. So what? You assume that every performer in the history of “SNL” had to audition to get on the show. Are you aware, Mr. Wallenstein, that Lorne Michaels saw former cast member Julia Sweeney in a Groundlings performance in Chicago and just gave her a job on the show or that he saw former cast member Terry Sweeney acting in a play in New York and just gave him a job? No nationwide audition, no front page story in the New York Times– he just hired them. In other words, it is a historical fact that not all of the 167 past and present cast members of “Saturday Night Live” had to audition against a mass, diverse pool of performers– to get on the show.

    When you consider this irrefutable fact, Mr. Wallenstein, it adds a new dimension to your article– that a form of discrimination was indeed employed by “SNL’s” sudden decision to hire a female African-American cast member, only the offended party may not have been other female actress of color who weren’t given a chance to audition, it might very well have been against the woman who was forced to dance for her supper– Sasheer Zamata. But I’m willing to bet that if you asked Sasheer Zamata about “SNL’s” sometimes double-standard when it comes to bringing in new blood to the show, she would probably say that it’s okay because– despite a prevailing White belief that Blacks don’t earn anything good that we get because there’s always a White person out there who could’ve done it better– most Black people are used to dancing for our supper, especially if it’s a good meal; that most Black people seem to always have to prove– even to the most well-meaning and good-intentioned of Whites like yourself, Mr. Wallenstein– that we’re good enough to sit at your best tables.

    I feel that you truly believe what you wrote in this article– that Lorne Michaels and “SNL” may have done themselves more harm than good by caving to the criticism and diversifying their show by blatantly hiring what the public (and certain members of his cast) cried out for– a Black female comedic actress. But I commend Lorne Michaels for what he did. What Lorne Michaels did, in my opinion, Mr. Wallenstein, was not cowardice or patronizing. It was brave. It takes a brave person– especially a rich and powerful one in Hollywood, of all places– to be taken to task for a glaring shortcoming and, instead of making excuses or digging his/her heels in the dirt to affirm an unpopular position (see Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder)– the person with the power to fix the problem just fixes the problem.

    The only way, Lorne Michaels could fix this problem was by hiring a Black female performer. And that’s exactly what he did. And I applaud him for not worrying about how it was going to make him look to some, like you, but for just doing what he felt was the right thing to do. I mean, Mr. Wallenstein, how else was Lorne Michaels going to fix this problem? Or would it have been better for him to pretend there was no problem and just keep doing his show his way, without any regard for what not only his fans but members of his staff were openly whispering? I’m curious, Mr. Wallenstein, in lieu of the situation, if you were in Lorne Michael’ shoes, what would you he done?

    I’ll tell you what the studios and networks would’ve done– they would’ve held a press conference like Lorne Michaels did, only they would’ve announced that they were creating a new program to “train” minority performers and teach them how to be funny and get them ready to become entry-level cast members on shows like “Saturday Night Live”, ignoring the fact that talented, experienced qualified performers of color already exist and are seasoned and ready to prove themselves… if given, the opportunity. Because at the end of the day, Mr. Wallenstein, this is what this is all really about– not false diversity or political correctness, not even White guilt– opportunity. And Lorne Michaels just created one for Sasheer Zamata the same way he’s done for the other 166 talented performers lucky enough to call themselves not-ready-for-prime-time players.

    We can all learn from Lorne Michaels’ failure to fight fire with firey excuses. If you’re really sincere about diversifying your work force, tv network writing staffs, or iconic weekend sketch comedy show cast, don’t talk about it like it’s a Rubik’s Cube, assemble a committee to commission a “study” or– God forbid– create yet another “diversity program” to “train minorities” how to write for and perform on broadcast and cable televsion shows– just do what Lorne Michaels did; what you do for anyone you consider a valuable asset to your team– hire them.

  29. John says:

    This reads like “somebody had an article to write and wanted to sound edgy.” What a gas bag this guy is!

    • Steve Johnson says:

      “Funny isn’t fair,” was the line Michaels would use when this issue came up in the past, as it always has.

      That is the point you missed. The first person the cast has to impress is the old white guy at the top. That’s not the case in other hiring situations. He decides who is funny, and for the last five years he didn’t think any of the black females who auditioned were funny enough. Now, under pressure, he has. That was the concern the writer was expressing.

  30. Fair points, Andrew. But I see it took a white man to make them. Tell the world this: How many minorities of how many staff members does Variety employ? In a county in which one out of every two people are Latino, how many Latinos do you have on staff? If you’re casting stones, I would love to take a peek inside your glass house.

    As bad as SNL is, I’d be willing to bet they have a better minority hiring record than Variety. Put your cards on the table. Don’t just talk about it, be about it.

  31. in 20 years you white folks will be crying about diversity, and people of color will start saying those of your hue hired are nothing but tokens. if you’re lucky enough to live that long and i hope i am, revenge will be sweet !!!!

  32. I hear she’s going to legally change her name to Token Black Female. =)

  33. k8 says:

    Sasheer is an accomplished improv and sketch performer. She has auditioned and has been brought back by SNL multiple times. Sad it took this to finally get her the job, but it was only a matter of time. She is extremely talented, competent, and ready for SNL. Let’s not diminish her talents just because SNL is being showboaty with fake diversity. She got a job she wanted, no sense in making her feel bad about it.

  34. Heather says:

    So… They’re discrimatory for not having a black woman, and then they’re discrimatory for having a black woman? Right. The problem with the assertion that they should have just done a general casting call: if the best person was a white man, and they hired him, this article would have been about how they’re discrimatory for hiring a white man instead of a black woman. How’bout we just tell the woman congratulations, and not diminish her accomplishment by proportioning that she only made it because of her race?

  35. So this opinion piece’s argument is that SNL should not have hired a Black woman for the cast because they were criticized for not having any Black women in the cast? Riiiiiight.

  36. Now they won’t have to put a wig on Keenan Thompson anymore.

  37. Omegageek says:

    Diversity just for the sake of diversity is always wrong. The best, most qualified person for a given job is always the right person for that job, regardless of race, gender, etc. What SNL is really saying here is that she’s not the best for the job, but we really needed a token. Shameful.

  38. All this insight is fine and dandy-
    but as a struggling black actress for 25 years in this buisiness, I am so happy to see this actress get her chance to shine…let’s support her opportunity first and then look at these crtitisims, they’re all valid and I wish they would bring change, but we’ve heard them before & still, black talent continues be hired one at a time(most of the time) and they look for the same faces over & over…at least she’s a new face!

  39. Shelly says:

    Its sad that in the 21st century there is still so much focus on race in this country. Maybe if the press didn’t fuel these flames with stupid stories like this to keep the hate going then maybe America can jump into the 21st century with the rest of the world and focus on moving forward. After all we are ALL Americans here and there’s more things in this country to worry about than some idiot slandering this poor woman’s name by demeaning her achievements. Cant we just say great job Shasheer! Glad you got the part! Oh but wait, that wont that sell half as much as the mud slinging! By the way great job Sasheer for getting this opportunity you have worked so hard for.

  40. Peggy says:

    I am so glad that a white, middle aged man in America can pick at a show trying to add more than just white, middle aged Americans to their show.
    They did a casting call for a specific type of performer because that’s what they were looking for. Just like any other casting, you call for what you are looking for. SNL realized they were lacking and took steps to correct the issue.
    Seems like it’s a darned if you do, darned if you don’t situation as far as your are concerned. Either they are racist for looking for a black woman to hire or they are racist for not having already hired one.
    As an African American woman who watches SNL I was very pleased to hear that they had finally filled a slot that had been vacant for far too long. Sasheer is a talented and capable comedic performer and diversifying the cast of any show on television is not something to take issue with.
    I think your entire argument is nonsense and I must ask you sir, to have a seat.

  41. Zaidi says:

    It’s SNL’s fault for racially painting itself into a corner in the first place, and then messing up the floor to get out of situation! What you get is tracks all over the place, and a messed up floor!

  42. writey says:

    Damn shame it had to come to this though this not unusual for SNL or Hollywood to seek the token black person. Historically Its there way of feeling better about themeselves to make up for there racial prejudice against actors of color. Especially women of color. SNL f***’d this up big time. What an insult! Now I know for sure not watching Snl long time ago was good idea!

  43. jeff gerecke says:

    I worked on the SNL crew way back in 1980 when Garrett Morris was the “token” on the cast. Whenever there was a sketch where he needed to have a wife they enlisted a black lady from the staff who was not as far as I can remember a member of the cast. That points up the real issue here: which is you need a black lady in the cast because there are so many roles which can only be played by a black lady. The sketch they wrote to make fun of themselves made that point quite well. Madonna imitations are pretty tired at this point. Most people are more interested in Rhiyana and Beyonce

  44. Lizzy says:

    “But lost amid all this attention on African-American women is that there currently are no Hispanics or Asians of either gender on “SNL” “- interesting! SNL seems to b following suit with many other sitcoms… there are many predominately white shows now with what seems like the “token” black friend thrown in. and it FEELS token. Kudos for trying to be more diverse-but there seems be a long way to go!

  45. Lisa says:

    The entire entertainment industry is prejudiced. I am so sick and tired of seeing anglo-saxon male names only in the credits at the end of TV shows and films. Things must change…NOW.

  46. Danny says:

    I want to know what Sasheer Zamata thinks about it….and, how funny is she?

  47. Danny says:

    could be ‘SNL’ thought, ‘ this isn’t good. let’s change it, right now, regardless of how it Looks, because it’s a valid point, and there’s no time like right now.

  48. Thom H says:

    It is unusual for SNL to add a cast member mid year. Then again, it’s unusual for them to be losing a major cast member mid year with Seth Myers leaving to take over Late Night. So… if they get called out for not having a female black player, a spot opens up, they hire one and that makes them even worse?

    So they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I’d be curious to know what the author’s solution would have been to properly handle this situation.

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