If anyone was wondering whether selecting “Scandal” star Kerry Washington to host “Saturday Night Live” just weeks after everyone got all upset about the show’s six new cast members—all of them white and most of them male—was a ploy to placate general cries for more color on the show, it was and it wasn’t.
“SNL” addressed the criticism in the cold open with Jay Pharoah as President Barack Obama and Washington as First Lady Michelle Obama preparing for a state dinner that would feature at least two other important black women.
“This is such a treat, I feel like it’s been years since I’ve seen you,” Pharaoh’s Obama said.
“It may feel that way,” Washington responded, cagey, playing into the commentary of just about everyone that the show is missing out on parodies of really important people like the First Lady. Maya Rudolph, who left the show in 2007, was the last cast member to play Michelle Obama.
Washington then has to run and get changed to play Oprah Winfrey, a guest at the dinner, before leaving, again, to get ready to play Beyoncé. She’s tired and irritated and is the only person around to play these two newsmakers because that’s the funny part, right?
A voiceover reads this message to viewers:
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. We make these requests because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent — and also because SNL does not currently have a black woman on the cast. Mostly the latter. We agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future, unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.
The stink of the show’s perceived black woman problem hung in the air for the duration of the show, it seemed, as Washington was thrust into a series of sorta-funny skits that just didn’t seem to know what to do with a black woman. The best sketches were the ones that didn’t rely on Washington too much—a spoof of “What Does the Fox Say” called “My Girl” and a funny-because-its-painfully-true look at how much black folks love the current president called “How’s He Doing.”
Comedy can really effectively talk about race and culture in smart and elevated ways that sting less than more straightforward commentary. “SNL” has done that in the past and the “How’s He Doing” sketch was a decent example, but others, like an international beauty pageant making forays into less developed nations like Uganda and Greenland and another where Washington basically played a stereotypical lazy and indifferent black woman employee weren’t smart and, even worse, not funny.
And, lest we have to keep repeating it in this post-racial society we all enjoy, Washington could have just done regular, ole funny sketches that had nothing to do with race or culture or media bias or Obama.