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Group Criticizes SNL For Lack Of Black Female Cast Members

The nonprofit organization ColorOfChange.org has written an open letter to Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Micheals attacking the producer for the show's lack of African-American female cast members. The Hollywood Reporter received the letter exclusively and published it on their website. According to the article:

Kerry_Washington-Scandal(1)Since Maya Rudolph's departure in 2007, SNL has failed to cast even one Black woman -- yet still manages to traffic in dehumanizing portrayals that make race and gender the butt of the joke," reads the letter from ColorOfChange.org executive director Rashad Robinson. "SNL seems committed to aggressively continuing to push images of Black women as incompetent, rude, hypersexual and financially dependent. Frankly, we're tired of this disrespect."

The organization also took a moment to applaud SNL's choice to host tonight's episode: Scandal star Kerry Washington.

That praise was followed up with more criticism from the group: "But it's scandalous that after Ms. Washington's episode wraps on Saturday, this season is unlikely to feature any Black women characters at all."

Read the letter in its entirety, AFTER THE JUMP.

Washington herself was recently interviewed by The Advocate about diversity and how she feels about the support her show has received from the LGBT community. She responded:

For our show in particular, because it represents such diversity on so many levels, sexual orientation included, it means a lot. I always want to be a part of work that speaks to people across the lines that divide us. When fans came up to me, I used to play this game where I'd guess which of my movies they wanted to talk about. It was a totally horrible game based on outward appearances and assumptions about identity. Like, if it was an older black woman, I knew she wanted to talk about Ray. If it was a guy in his 20s, it was Fantastic Four. And if it was a lesbian, it was She Hate Me. But because it has such an amazing following that crosses age, race, gender, and sexual orientation, Scandal has changed the game completely.

October 31, 2013

Dear Lorne Michaels and producers of Saturday Night Live,

I am the Executive Director of ColorOfChange.org, the country's largest online civil rights organization with more than 900,000 members nationwide. ColorOfChange exists to strengthen Black Americans' political voice, in part by holding industry decision makers accountable when they promote or reinforce noxious racial stereotypes in the media.

I was deeply troubled by SNL cast member Kenan Thompson's recent comment that Black women comics just aren't "ready" to join your show. Thompson's remark gives cover to disturbing, long-held industry myths that Black women entertainers as a whole are untalented, unrelatable and unprofitable -- while conveniently sidestepping SNL's glaring (and much-remarked) deficit of Black onscreen talent that has come to define the show for nearly four decades now.

It's clear the producers, casting team and writers at SNL aren't oblivious to the ways Black women are breaking barriers across the television landscape -- and garnering huge audiences in the process. Your decision to tap Kerry Washington, the breakout star of ABC's tremendously popular Scandal, to host this week's show at least acknowledges that TV viewers want to see dynamic, multidimensional Black women characters on screen. But it's scandalous that after Ms. Washington's episode wraps on Saturday, this season is unlikely to feature any Black women characters at all.

In the 39-year history of SNL, just three Black women have joined the show's repertory cast. The first, Danitra Vance, was hired after the show had already been on air for a decade, and quit after a short period because she was only given tired roles written expressly to demean and dismiss Black women, including baby mamas, maids and women with a bad attitude. That was 1986 -- when I was in elementary school -- and it seems little has changed over the course of my lifetime.

Since Maya Rudolph's departure in 2007, SNL has failed to cast even one Black woman -- yet still manages to traffic in dehumanizing portrayals that make race and gender the butt of the joke. Whether it's Kenan Thompson in drag as the crass, sexually aggressive "Virginiaca," or white cast member Cecily Strong voicing "Verquonica" -- a "large, non-functional" (i.e. overweight and lazy), unmistakably "Black" Starbucks coffee machine -- SNL seems committed to aggressively continuing to push images of Black women as incompetent, rude, hypersexual and financially dependent. Frankly, we're tired of this disrespect.

Further, it's critical to note that the callous, monolithic representations of Black people peddled by SNL and others have alarming real-world impacts. Media depictions of Black individuals, families and communities irrefutably shape how we're perceived in society. According to a recent study by The Opportunity Agenda, the negative perceptions of Black men and women that form in TV audiences' minds as a result of biased portrayals translate into greater chances of us being shot by the police, diminished attention from doctors, and less consideration when applying for jobs, loans and educational opportunities.

And SNL has a particularly important role to play when it comes to influencing both the casting and characters that gain traction with a wider television (and film) audience. SNL acts as a springboard for the entire comedy universe, spinning off standalone shows and movies based on SNL skits, and lending an imprimatur of bankability to cast alums. Your impact has been especially pronounced in late night -- a realm of television where white male dominance persists -- with Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon and now Seth Meyers chosen for the handful of hosting opportunities available.

Given the substantial real-life consequences of your ability to evolve casting practices at SNL, we are demanding to know what you will do to ensure Black women are no longer excluded from the show. I urge you to treat this matter with all due seriousness and respectfully request a phone meeting by Wednesday, November 6th, to discuss how you will improve the situation at SNL.

Sincerely, Rashad Robinson Executive Director ColorOfChange.org

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Comments

  1. Lack of funny writers too.

    Posted by: JonnyNYNY2FLFL | Nov 2, 2013 3:04:42 PM


  2. Excellent points. I wonder when SNL will cease broadcasting. Time to put it out of its misery.

    Posted by: zeddy | Nov 2, 2013 3:21:31 PM


  3. "SNL seems committed to aggressively continuing to push images of Black women as incompetent, rude, hypersexual and financially dependent."

    I think it's shameful SNL hasn't cast any black women recently, especially since we have a black First Lady, but I have no idea what they're referring to. Can anyone cite examples of this?

    And, if they're upset about images of black women as incompetent and hypersexual, I wonder what colorofchange.org thinks of Sherri Shepherd?

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Nov 2, 2013 3:36:17 PM


  4. Why only focus on AA women? What about Asian Latino, etc.

    Posted by: Jamie | Nov 2, 2013 4:00:06 PM


  5. Kenan Thompson is atrocious.

    Posted by: Will | Nov 2, 2013 4:26:47 PM


  6. It's a good question, Jamie, but I think the lack of AA women stands out more because the black men on SNL are called on to play famous black females.

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Nov 2, 2013 4:32:23 PM


  7. Not a single transgendered Asian either. For shame Lorne Michaels. For shame!

    Posted by: me | Nov 2, 2013 6:10:44 PM


  8. Here's a thought: Casting people who are actually funny (hurr hurr SNL hasn't done that in years hurr hurr yadda yadda my opinion is fact) and not people who fill out a quota. If black women aren't being added to the cast, it's likely because none that have auditioned are impressing the casters and producers. Not a whole lot this group can do about that.

    Posted by: Arrowsmith | Nov 2, 2013 6:21:33 PM


  9. Why is Kerry Washington hosting a show featuring the homophobe Eminem? If she loves Eminem so much, she is no friend of gay men.

    And why didn't ColorOfChange.Org call out SNL for having the anti-gay Eminem on the show? The selective morality of black organizations is telling.

    Towleroad failed to pick up this inconsistency.

    Posted by: Adrenan P | Nov 2, 2013 6:26:18 PM


  10. Kerry Washington is a swine who reportedly loves Eminem, the man who markets virulently homophobic lyrics to young people in his latest song Rap God.

    A black woman giving credibility to a homophobe is not a good sight.

    Towleroad is letting down the gay community by failing to mention it here.e

    Posted by: Adrenan P | Nov 2, 2013 6:43:47 PM


  11. Weren't gay groups supposed to be protesting this episode of SNL due to Eminem's homophobic lyrics? Or is this going to be yet another flop of a protest by limp-wristed gay guys?

    No guts, no glory - pretty much sums up gay men in America.

    Posted by: Pink | Nov 2, 2013 6:58:34 PM


  12. Sorry but SNL is not taking my Jessica Williams off The Daily Show.

    Loni Love is also too big for SNL in more ways than one :P

    Posted by: Sam | Nov 2, 2013 7:02:36 PM


  13. When will SNL hire a Jewish, handicapped, half black and half asian, intersex actor? When will they be represented on the show?

    Posted by: Perry | Nov 2, 2013 7:09:21 PM


  14. Perry, what current, famous and newsworthy Jewish, handicapped, half black and half asian, intersex person would you like to see satirized on SNL?

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Nov 2, 2013 7:16:55 PM


  15. It's been almost 15 years since the divine Debra Wilson was on Mad TV. That's just flat-out unacceptable. I know Wilson, like Whoopi Goldberg & Wanda Sykes, is creme-de-la-creme, but surely there's SOME other brilliant black comedienne out there!

    Posted by: Dback | Nov 2, 2013 7:42:35 PM


  16. This is ridiculous as is political correctness. It is the reason why I don't watch TV anymore.

    Posted by: Jay | Nov 2, 2013 7:55:44 PM


  17. And I can't forget that midget population. The actor must also be a midget

    Posted by: Perry | Nov 2, 2013 8:08:40 PM


  18. "And why didn't ColorOfChange.Org call out SNL for having the anti-gay Eminem on the show? The selective morality of black organizations is telling."

    Or maybe the organization realizes that diluting their message makes it less effective. I think your claim the this group doesn't care about homophobia is untrue. The Executive Director of Color of Change used to work for GLAAD.

    Using your rationale, anyone protesting the anti-gay laws in Russia should be chastized for not also speaking out against the mistreatment of ethnic groups that happens in that country.

    Posted by: mburke | Nov 2, 2013 8:31:38 PM


  19. Oh wa wa, lemme just write a letter to all the NBA/NHL owners about lack of caucasians, see how much people give a flying fvk. Not everything is gonna be 50 50 in life get over it.

    Posted by: James | Nov 2, 2013 9:03:51 PM


  20. I agree with the sentiment but honestly, what if there are no funny black females to employ? I would rather not have any funny black females on SNL than have one token unfunny bit player.

    Posted by: jonvincent | Nov 2, 2013 9:13:32 PM


  21. When was the last time a black woman won an Emmy for a comedy series? I remember Isabelle Sanford winning for "The Jeffersons" and she may be the one and only.

    Posted by: MIke | Nov 2, 2013 10:45:55 PM


  22. I meant lead actress Emmy. I know there have been a handful of Best Supporting Comedy Actresses who were black.

    Posted by: MIke | Nov 2, 2013 10:47:16 PM


  23. Please. half of the white "comedians" are consistently not funny. Lorne Michaels and his staff have just not been interested in finding good black comedians. For a show that also relies on current affairs for topics, it's been strange that they haven't had a black comedienne, especially in this time of a black First Family. But they had the nerve to put up Horatio Sanz, who was never, ever funny.

    Posted by: Albert | Nov 2, 2013 10:48:50 PM


  24. And then there was the cold open they used Kerry for...

    Posted by: Jerry | Nov 3, 2013 1:29:51 AM


  25. Kerry Washington is gross.

    Posted by: Pink | Nov 3, 2013 2:14:50 AM


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