Since its 1975 debut, Saturday Night Live has had 137 cast members, but of that number, only four have been black women. And with the 2007 departure of the bi-racial Maya Rudolph, that has left SNL with no black female cast members. Some black advocacy groups have taken notice.
One, ColorOfChange.org, is not at all happy with the small number of black female cast members. And so, the civil rights group sent SNL producer Lorne Michaels a letter asking him why there have been so few black women in his cast.
As reported in The Hollywood Reporter, ColorOfChange.org executive director Rashad Robinson wants Michaels to answer to this lapse.
In his letter, Robinson says, “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.”
Robinson also criticizes the show for its portrayals of black women. “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.”
Robinson goes on to demand to know what Michaels will do to “ensure Black women are no longer excluded from the show.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, Michaels defends his show and insists that no slight is meant to black women.
“It’s not like it’s not a priority for us,” Michaels said on October 31. “It will happen. I’m sure it will happen.
Michaels isn’t the only one getting in trouble with activists at SNL, though. In a recent interview with TV Guide, former Disney child star Kenan Thompson said that there just aren’t that many funny black women that are “ready” for SNL to choose from–something Lorne Michaels has also said.
“It’s just a tough part of the business,” Thompson said. “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.”
Thompson’s words, however, have caused some ire. Yesha Callahan of the black-centric magazine Clutch, has slammed Thompson saying he “inserted his fat foot into his mouth.”
For his part, black male cast member Jay Pharoah says that SNL should have hired comedic actress Darmirra Brunson. Pharoah has also been critical of the lack of female cast members of color.
Miriam Petty, a Northwestern University communications professor and purported expert on black popular culture, told the Chicago Sun-Times that there probably isn’t any “conscious” effort to exclude black women.
“But when most of the people in the boardroom (making casting decisions) are white men,” Petty said, “that’s going to happen.”
Of the four past black females in the SNL cast, Rudolph, who departed in 2007, spent seven years in the cast and has since gone on to movie work. The other black female cast members, however, did not last nearly as long as Rudolph. They were Ellen Cleghorne (1991-1995), Danitra Vance (85-86), and Yvonne Hudson (80-81).
One thing, however, may force Michaels’ hand to hire a black female cast member. The two current black male cast members, Thompson and Pharoah, are insisting that they won’t do bits in drag any more. That means no Oprah, no Whoopi Goldberg, no Michele Obama, nor any other black female characters will appear on SNL.