It may appear a capitulation born of growing pressure and bad PR on the part of Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, but the addition of Upright Citizens Brigade alum Sasheer Zamata will likely be seen as a step in the right direction in hiring its first black actress in over five years.
SNL has stumbled through an odd patch in the media of late, as well as dealing with the heavy blow of shedding veteran cast members like Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Jason Sudeikis, with head writer and Weekend Update lead Seth Meyers jumping ship later this season to take over Late Night from Jimmy Fallon. Michaels went on a featured player hiring spree, throwing together one of the largest casts in years of new faces, all of which were notably not particularly diverse, and may of whom have been noticeably absent through much of this season’s run, which has relied heavily on its veterans.
SNL can fairly boast a reputation in the last decade plus for nurturing and helping launch massively successful careers in many of its increasingly numbered female cast, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey being prime examples. That noted, in its 38 years on air, the sketch comedy mainstay has hired only four black women as cast. The growing contentious sentiment in the media regarding this fact only became more visible when the competing opinions of its own Jay Pharoah and veteran Kenan Thompson, the only two black men on the roster, became public.
With the hiring of Sasheer Zamata, SNL dips yet again into the UCB Theater trough, with four of its newest cast hailing from its Los Angeles arm. In addition to her all important improv background, the young comedian has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, sketches on the ever popular CollegeHumor.com, and has a solid run of comedy club entries on her resume.
It may very well be that Zamata’s hiring was simply a calculated PR move on the part of Michaels and company, but regardless, it’s a step in the right direction in diversifying one of the longest running network television programs in the United States. Even if that’s the case, however, here’s hoping doing so has set a new and sustained precedent for the foreseeable future.