On January 18th, there will be a new face on Saturday Night Live. No, it’s not Drake, who will be both the host and the musical guest (Side note: When was the last time that was a good idea? Paul Simon?), but Sasheer Zamata, a mid-season addition to the NBC late night sketch show’s featured players roster. You’ll be able to pick her out of the sea of background characters: she’ll be the black woman; a first for the show since Maya Rudolph left 2007.
It’s an uneasy victory: While it’s definitely a good thing to have more diversity in the cast, the fact is that Ms. Zamata was hired in direct result to the backlash caused by Kenan Thompson’s comments to TV Guide last October, when he claimed the show had a hard time staffing black women because many of them were not qualified. The show’s producers were under considerable pressure to address the problem, and held several auditions to find someone who could reprieve Mr. Thompson of having to put on a dress every time the show needed an Oprah character. (SNL, which does have a sense of humor about itself, did a brilliant send-up of the issue in its cold opening with Kerry Washington last year.)
This is not to say Ms. Zamata is not qualified. A graduate of the University of Virginia, the acting major has been taking classes UCB, a popular feeding pool for late night, since 2009. Her YouTube videos show that she has a wide array of characters and impressions up her sleeve, including Beyonce and Michelle Obama. She’ll make a great addition to the show, and hopefully going forward, SNL will not have to hold seperate auditions for black women.