“Saturday Night Live” addressed the diversity issue right up front this weekend in an opening bit that had guest-host Kerry Washington playing three prominent African-American women.
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Washington, the African-American star of ABC’s “Scandal,” became a lightning rod for a national conversation about the ethnic make-up of the “SNL” cast, which historically has had very few African-American women.
The news that she would guest-host the show was announced in September by NBC, at around the same time that the show hired six new cast members — all of whom were white (and five of whom were male).
With no female African-American women in the cast, the job of playing various female African-American celebrities has gone to male cast members such as Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah. But the two men have indicated they don’t want to play the women anymore.
So “SNL” lampooned the situation Saturday night with an opening sketch that had Washington quickly — and breathlessly — changing outfits in order to appear as Michelle Obama, then Oprah Winfrey, and then Beyonce (although she never made it back on-stage outfitted as the singer).
In between costume changes, the show ran some text on-screen in which the producers “apologized” for the show’s lack of diversity, while cast members Pharoah (as President Obama) and Taran Killam (who played a presidential aide) sat uncomfortably in the Oval Office as they waited for “Oprah” to enter the room.
“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,” said the text. “We made this request 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 this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it the near future … unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.”
Then, six male cast members — all white — were ushered into the room all costumed as Matthew McConaughey, illustrating that the show has no shortage of those.
The last and final touch to this bit was the appearance of MSNBC personality and civil rights firebrand Al Sharpton — the real one — who stepped into the scene to make a brief comment about the sketch. “Good evening, I’m the Rev. Al Sharpton,” he said. “What have we learned from this sketch? As usual: Nothing.”
He then had the honor of voicing the show’s signature intro: “Live from New York — it’s ‘Saturday Night’!”
Elsewhere on this weekend’s show: Race was also the subject of a sketch in which Kenan Thompson was the host of a talk show called “How’s He Doing?” whose sole topic was President Obama’s track record. Pharoah and Washington played Thompson’s guests in the sketch.
Washington raised the subject of her ABC series, “Scandal,” in her opening monologue. “I’m so proud in 2013 to be on a show that has the courage to cast a white man as the President!” she said of the show, in which Tony Goldwyn, who is white, plays President Fitzgerald Grant (with whom Washington’s character is having an affair).