Recently, Saturday Night Live faced criticism that the cast lacks diversity, specifically for its absence of black women. Kenan Thompson, one of the show’s three minority actors, announced he would no longer cross-dress to play characters like Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg.
There has not been a black female SNL cast member since 2007. To put that in perspective, that means there has not been a permanent cast member on the show during the entire Obama presidency to play Mrs. Obama.
In a sharply critical article last week, The New York Times noticed the dearth of black women on the show:
“Let me state the obvious: That “Saturday Night Live,” once home of the Not Ready for Prime Time players, has hired only three black women for its main cast— in addition to Yvonne Hudson, a featured player in 1980 — in four decades says more about the show than about the talent pool.”
The show answered its critics this past Saturday night, when actress Kerry Washington hosted the show. In the opening skit, Ms. Washington was asked to play several black female characters, looking incredulous as she ran back and forth for quick wardrobe changes.
As she switched characters, an announcer came on, with text on the screen acknowledging the situation in what I thought was a fairly humorous way:
“The producers of Saturday Night Live would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight. We made these requests both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable talent and also because SNL does not currently have a black woman in the cast. As for the latter reason, we agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future. Unless of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.”
From a crisis communications perspective, there’s an interesting question here: Was the skit an effective response to the situation?
Maybe. The skit was self-aware, funny, and it answered the critics in a way that was genuine to the show. That Ms. Washington played characters Mr. Thompson once portrayed or that haven’t been possible to portray on the show recently was slyly smart.
However, if SNL does nothing to correct this egregious problem by casting a black woman quickly, the skit will be considered flip and dismissive in hindsight.
Christina Mozaffari is the vice president of Phillips Media Relations. She tweets at @PMRChristina.