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Beyond Kerry Washington: SNL Snubs Black Women?

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Pop quiz: Can you remember the last time a Black woman was the headlining star on Saturday Night Live before Kerry Washington?

No?  Me neither.

This past Saturday, the Scandal star joined the super short list of Black actresses who’ve hosted the iconic comedy sketch show.

By having Washington as the guest performer, SNL got the opportunity to lampoon racial stereotypes, gender issues and politics in one jam-packed show all while raking in ratings from an audience they largely snub: Black women.

Interestingly, the one sketch that everyone is discussing the morning after is the “Cold Open: Michelle Obama at the White House.” With a super bouffant ‘do, Washington portrayed a gleeful Michelle next to Barack (thankfully, now played by a Black man), the big joke being that she would have to switch into three Black characters in under three minutes because of the lack of African American ladies on the regular cast.  Check it out below.

The show attempted to poke fun at the elephant in the room, but it also reminds us all that it has been too long since a Black woman has been a cast member since Maya Rudolph officially left the show in 2007. Virtually every time an African American woman has been portrayed on SNL, it’s been Madea-style with Kenan Thompson regularly playing Oprah, and White cast members tackling lighter-skinned celebs including Beyonce.

As we’ve noted in this EDITORIAL, Thompson himself hasn’t been helpful in giving his SNL producers a shove to consider comediennes of color.  Mr. “What Up With That” roiled the Internet with his insensitive comments that their lack of “readiness” is the real reason Rudolph has had no successor. Then, finally last week, SNL head honcho (and unofficial king of NBC) Lorne Michaels weighed in on the controversy with noncommittal comments that the show would be hiring a Black woman “eventually,” further nullifying any urgency on it with the quote: “I’m sure it will happen.”

Seriously?

Please.  Someone send both Thompson and Michaels some YouTube clips of some “Chescaleigh” videos. “Chescaleigh,” real name: Franchesca Ramsey, is a prime example of a Black woman doing comedy on ballerina pointe; her most famous parody being the viral “Sh*t White Girls Say to Black Girls.”

You could even see the glimmer of promise in Washington, though she is best known these days for dramatic portrayals.  The Scandal star’s timing was fine tuned, and she honestly seemed to relish the chance to play more insouciant characters. Her one-time skit as an aloof, “hood” speaking assistant to a motivational speaker was predictable, but her role as a headstrong Spelman professor was just right, and a throwback to some of her film roles.

But still, the first sketch she appeared in said the most…. SNL isn’t going to make change with any haste.

“Cold Open” ended with a too-apt, surprise visit from the Rev. Al Sharpton who asked the audience and the viewers: “What have we learned from all this?” He pauses, then adds: “As usual, nothing.” By having the influential and outspoken Sharpton announce that fact, it was curt, head-on, and a little risible, yet another reminder and maybe even a honest answer from SNL that while they have fully recognized the criticism, they are essentially advising us to savor Washington’s appearance while it lasts.

It’ll likely be a while before we see another Black woman live on Saturday night.