Despite several star turns by African-American actresses on the small screen of late, longstanding television institution “Saturday Night Live” has an alarming lack of Black women in their performing troupe.
With recent comments from cast members Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah bringing the situation to light, “SNL” finds itself on the opposite end of a relentless campaign spearheaded by Color Of Change.org executive director Rashad Robinson.
Robinson joined Roland Martin‘s “NewsOneNow” show Thursday morning to discuss his ultimatum to meet with “SNL” and NBC executives, and the next steps of his fight to bring much-needed diversity to the program.
Robinson made demands to meet with SNL producer Lorne Michaels on Wednesday, telling Martin that the efforts of his organization, coupled with the galvanized outcry of others, helped facilitate a discussion that continued on Thursday.
“We heard from SNL and we heard from NBC. We actually have a meeting today with senior executives from NBC to discuss this matter,” shared Robinson. “We also have a face-to-face meetings scheduled for later this month out in L.A. with senior executives.”
“We know this wouldn’t have happened without folks all around the country really speaking up and standing up. The fact of the matter is, this isn’t a question of whether or not Black folks can laugh at themselves or be a part of the joke. This is about whether or not we’re going to be at the table and can be in on the joke,” Robinson added.
Robinson made it clear that the campaign is about more than SNL. He hopes that the discussions sparked by the Color Of Change inquiry will help Black comediennes and actresses, along with writers and show producers, get a fair shot at gaining exposure on shows like SNL and beyond. Robinson was also certain to state that the campaign isn’t ending because of the traction made with the recent talks.
Martin made mention of SNL stars that have used the sketch comedy show as a launching pad for careers that went well beyond their humble starts. Big names such as Steve Martin, the late John Belushi, Eddie Murphy and Tina Fey among others were mentioned, with the host linking how SNL helped to expand their opportunities. Robinson responded to that point as well.
“Lorne Michaels is the gatekeeper,” said Robinson. “For 39 years, he’s been able to tap people on the shoulders and get to decide who’s funny and who’s not, to be the arbitrator of that, and as a result, who has opportunities for greater careers and who doesn’t.”
“So the question for us as consumers, as advocates, as people who hold those in power accountable is for those who have the opportunity as gatekeepers, what are doing to expand the pie [so that] more people have opportunities,” continued Robinson.
Robinson brought up Thompson’s TV Guide interview quip where he stated that a possibility of why there’s a lack of Black comediennes on the show is that they aren’t ready for prime time. Over the show’s history of over 140 cast members, only four black women have ever made the troupe. To add even deeper racial and cultural implications to SNL’s male-dominated whiteness, there hasn’t been a Latino troupe member since Horatio Sanz left the show in 2006.
Currently, Kerry Washington stars on ABC’s hit drama, “Scandal” in the role of Olivia Pope. As one of network television’s most popular series, Washington, who just hosted SNL last week, is just one of a handful of Black women actresses in starring roles. Nicole Beharie of Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” drama has certainly helped bring more notice to the lack of African-Americans on prime-time television and hopefully signals a change to come.
A recent Nielsen report revealed that Blacks watch more television than any other group, and another report says that Blacks spend 55 hours per week engaging content across TV, radio and the Web, which is more than than any other group.
With African-Americans commanding a buying power of $1 trillion, which is expected to grow by 2017, it’s clear that the bloc would expect to see more representation of themselves across the board. Will Hollywood and television executives respond to the efforts of Robinson and other like-minded groups by giving those opportunities to people, and especially women, of color? Only time will tell.