Kerry Washington Addresses Race Issues On Saturday Night Live
Kerry Washington probably just wanted to use her funny bone for a change when she signed on to host Saturday Night Live, but the acclaimed dramatic actress and star of ABC’s Scandal stepped right into a controversy. However, Washington and SNL used the episode as an opportunity to address race on the show and in the country.
Although SNL has long faced criticism over diversity in its cast, the issue became prominent again this year when the show hired six new actors- the most in a single season since the 80′s- and all of them were white, with only one woman. Both of the show’s black cast members, Jay Pharaoh and Kennan Thompson, publicly expressed an unwillingness to play female black characters until the show hires a black female cast member. But Thompson also exacerbated the problem by saying in an interview that it was difficult to find black women who are “ready” for SNL.
In the very first sketch of the evening (the cold open), the cast and writers addressed the issue. Pharaoh played President Obama, and Washington entered to applause as Michelle Obama.
The president then remarked that he felt like he hadn’t seen Michelle in years, a reference to the fact that the First Lady had not been portrayed on the SNL since Maya Rudolph was a cast member in 2007. (But absent that knowledge, the joke went over the heads of many in the audience.)
When the press secretary (Taran Killam) then announces that Oprah has arrived, the cast members awkwardly break character to ask Washington to leave so she can change into the Oprah costume. The screen then fills with a straight-forward but funny description of the situation:
The producers at 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 range and talent and also because SNL does not currently have a black woman in the cast.
As for the latter reason, we agree that 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.
Over all, I’d say the sketch was a well-intended but awkward attempt to address the controversy. It’s always difficult to make a self-conscious joke about how awkward a sketch itself is. More successful was the introduction of the “five different Matthew McConaugheys,” showing in a vivid and funny way how homogenous much of the cast is. The onscreen statement was probably heartfelt, and the appearance of Al Sharpton was again a meaningful but funny surprise.
Perhaps a better use of Washington’s talent was the sketch “How’s He Doing?”, another attempt to directly address racial differences. That’s also tough, but I thouht this sketch was hilarious:
And of course, there was the “What Does The Fox Say” digital short parody.
If nothing else, when was the last time the show had sketches featuring all black actors?
What do you think of Washington’s appearance, and diversity on SNL?