A day after the Internet debated Saturday Night Live comedian Kenan Thompson's comments about the show's lack of black female comics, the show announced that Kerry Washington would host, making Washington only the third black woman to do so since the 2009-2010 season.
Washington will be on hand to host the November 2 show alongside musical guest Eminem. It obviously makes sense that Washington would come and host. Her show, Scandal, is doing amazingly well, and we can already see the SNL writers' brains churning out sketches about Olivia Pope's gladiators fixing Washington, D.C.'s innumerable problems.
But Washington—who has been breaking down all kinds of barriers—will also come to the show at a moment when it's been trying to wrestle with its glaring diversity problem in a very public forum. The show entered its 39th season with six new cast members, all white. "While 'SNL' has never been especially diverse, this season's crop of newbies feels especially jarring," Billy Nilles wrote at Zap2it. "Perhaps it's just because of the surprising high number of additions that makes the white-wash that much more obvious?"
Jay Pharaoh, one of the casts' two black members, told theGrio that "they need to pay attention," suggesting the show cast Darmirra Brunson. "Why do I think she should be on the show? Because she’s black first of all, and she’s really talented. She’s amazing. She needs to be on SNL. I said it. And I believe they need to follow up with it like they said they were going to do last year."
At Grantland, Rembert Browne took on the notion that a black woman would be hired to fill a quota and not on her own talents. Still, he concluded, "with all that said, is it better than nothing? It's unfortunate that's the question we're asking, but the answer is yes. Absolutely. Every aspect of SNL will improve with a black woman in the cast and not just so there's someone to dress up as Nicki Minaj, Michelle Obama, and Serena Williams."
Pharoah's comments didn't create quite the same stir of outrage as what Thompson told TVGuide in an interview published Monday evening. Thompson told Sadie Gennis that the reason why black women don't get cast on the show is because "in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready."
The interview prompted Michael Slezak at TVLine to note that the show's lack of black women is not limited to the cast. "Even more puzzling, SNL‘s problem with African-American ladies seems to extend to its hosting invites, too," he wrote. "Of the 90 episodes the show has aired since Season 35, only two black women (and four women of color in total) have hosted: Gabourey Sidibe (April 2010) and Maya Rudolph (February 2012), along with Latina A-listers Jennifer Lopez and Sofia Vergara."
Washington's hosting duties are just a small step in the right direction, but they come at a time when the long-running show really is due for some serious self evaluation.