Opinion: Sasheer Zamata is Nobody’s Token Hire

Uh oh, someone call Sarah Palin.

“Saturday Night Live” just performed some on-air affirmative action.

At least that is what we are to believe, based on this Variety piece about the hiring of Sasheer Zamata.

It is funny, as some commenters on the site already have noted, that this column of outrage and moral turpitude came — not after Kenan Thompson foolishly suggested there weren’t Black female comics up to the “SNL” challenge, but after the lily White and heavily male show reconsidered its stance to have Thompson constantly don Spanx, bad beauty supply wigs and dresses to portray characters from Whoopi Goldberg to Starr Jones.

As an aside: Let it be noted that Thompson, whose specialty appears to be very loud voices and bugged out eyes, really took a risk by suggesting that there is some sky-high standard.  I’d like him to personally prove it sometime in a sketch that isn’t “Scared Straight” or “What Up with That.”

But back to the matter.

The writer suggests that Zamata is now somehow tainted by the stigma of tokenism.  That she will forever be viewed through a veil of “harumph” because of the manner in which she was cast.  I would argue that instead, “SNL” will be looked at with scrutiny, since it took a foot-in-mouth comment from a fair-to-middling comic of “Goodburger” (ahem) fame and the ire of the Internet to call the show’s attention to the fact that it’s cast in no way reflected the makeup of actual America.  You know, the place it’s paid to parody.

And I would also put forth that sadly, in this wonderful place, you can be hit with the so-called stigma of affirmative action even when it’s not applicable.  In my own life, I recall when a decidedly “D” and “C” student scoffed out loud that I was admitted to both Yale and Northwestern universities.  This classmate, who was White and prone to bigoted remarks, announced in full hearing of one of my teachers and other peers: “Whew, that’s good old affirmative action at its finest.”  It didn’t occur to him that my blemish-free report card, extracurricular involvement, Advanced Placement classes,  and scholastic award-collecting cred had earned me a rightful place at two top schools.  Instead, he looked at the color of my skin and laughed off my accomplishments without considering he had very few of his own.

It is also important to consider that Michael’s decision was likely not the result of wrestling with his inner demons or a visit from the ghost of Moms Mabley.  As his ratings win on the night Kerry Washington hosted reveals, there is money to be made in courting new audiences and that “Scandal”-sized bump did not go unnoticed.  It all boils down to money, not a belated attempt to right the wrongs against our improv ancestors.  On one point we agree, this is not a Black and White issue.  More should be done to be inclusive of other ethnic groups, but there’s no need to hold back progress in the meantime.

So with that, I encourage Zamata and others heralding her hire to ignore the negativity set forth in a column that it pained me to read three times.  Even if Zamata bombs, like the average “Weekend Update” sketch, she’ll be no worse off than her future peers who would do well to draw inspiration from YouTube to up their satirical game.

If anything, “SNL” did not drop its standards to allow Zamata into its hallowed halls.  In fact, I would argue, by righting an obvious wrong,  it raised them.


“Saturday Night Live” also has added two Black female writers to the staff.  Congrats, as we all know that in the game of thrones, that is the only way to truly win.  I am interested in your thoughts about the Sasheer hire and Variety piece.  Please do share below and I’ll definitely respond.