Photo Credit: Courtesy of NBC/Hulu
Last week, a civil rights group, ColorOfChange.org, released an open letter to Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, expressing disgust at the lack of black female cast members on the show. (There have been no black women since Maya Rudolph's exit in 2007.) Apparently, Michaels got the message: SNL kicked off Saturday's show with a President Obama sketch that directly addressed the issue.
And thanks to the grace and comic timing of host Kerry Washington, the sketch was both funny and meaningful. The Scandal actress played Michelle Obama, and when the script called for Oprah Winfrey to enter the scene, Washington had to excuse herself, and then return playing that character. While Obama (Jay Pharoah) waited around during her wardrobe change, a message scrolled across the screen.
"The producers of SNL would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight. ... SNL does not currently have a black woman in the cast. … We agree that this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the future… unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first."
The sketch was topped off with a visit from civil rights activist Al Sharpton. "What have we learned from this sketch?" he asked. "As usual, nothing." Watch the cold open here:
The sketch was a shrewd way of addressing the criticism, while keeping the opener, well, funny. In fact, throughout the episode, Washington helped the cast poke fun at racial stereotypes (both black and white) while maintaining its overall purpose of making viewers laugh. No doubt because of Washington's role as host, the cast members of color (Pharoah, Keenan Thompson and Nasim Pedrad, who is Iranian-American) found themselves with lots of air time.
Early on, Thompson hosted How's He Doing?, "the show where the black voter takes a frank, honest look at President Obama and asks, 'How's he doing?'" The joke, naturally, is that even during a tough week for the president (like this one), he more or less will always be beloved among this segment of the population: "The approval rating with black voters has dropped to a startling 93.6," Thompson quipped. With Pharoah playing a writer for Ebony and Washington as an erudite political science professor at Spellman College as guests, the conversation quickly digressed into a funny skewering of white people. "Have you ever been at a party and a white person approaches you with a smile and you just know they want to talk about The Wire?" Washington sniffed. Watch here:
But Washington effortlessly switched accents and social classes with each new sketch. She also played the "sad, wet little clown lady" at a high school fall carnival. (Just listening to her accent was worth the price of admission.) Watch here:
And in the now all-but-necessary spoof on "What Did the Fox Say?" Washington played the fed-up girlfriend. Watch here:
In the sketch that featured Heshi, the Career Week speaker from Yemen, Washington played her gum-smacking, peroxide-blond assistant, Tammy. "You don't pay me enough to get sucked into your towel drama, Heshi," she said with an eye roll right out of the south Bronx. When Heshi pressed her to check for more student questions, Tammy's dismissive attitude went into overdrive. "I looked, Heshi," she snapped. "Respect my ability to assess a bucket." Watch here:
Overall, Washington's stellar performance as host proved Color of Change's point in a positive, light-hearted way. Will Michaels learn from this, and hire some more black women? "It will happen," he told The Associated Press. "I'm sure it will happen."
Jennifer Graham Kizer is an iVillage contributing writer. Follow her on Google+.