Last night, Saturday Night Live's newest cast member, Sasheer Zamata, made her debut. For many reasons, it was must-watch television. But did the sketch show let her shine?
Sasheer Zamata might’ve been the reason many tuned into last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live, but it wasn’t until the very end of the night that anyone paid her any special courtesy. While signing off, Drake, who worked double duties as host and musical guest, congratulated the 27-year-old on her debut. Zamata is the first black woman to be apart of the cast since Maya Rudolph left in 2007, and one wonders whether or not she feels any heightened pressure to represent given her hiring came after criticism over the show’s lack of diversity and embarrassingly simple attitudes about the abilities of black female comedians.
I certainly hope not, though if she does feel any particular pressure, she made sure not to show it in the handful of sketches she appeared. This includes a skit about Drake’s multicultural bar mitzvah; another about everyone’s short-lived New Year’s resolutions, which had her singing the hook to the Drake-led song; one that allowed her to impersonate Rihanna; and a seventh-grade sleepover skit that she anchored but in which she had no significant number of lines.
It should not have taken this long for Zamata, or any black woman for that matter, to be hired. It also should not have taken so long to hire writers of color who can offer not only Zamata an opportunity to present her sense of humor, but offer the show an expanded perspective. Even so, what’s done is done now. Lorne Michaels, SNL's creator and long-time producer, doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for doing something that should have went without saying, but we needn’t belabor the point either.
That said, it would’ve been nice to see Zamata get one sketch in which she was the sole focus. Say, a spoof of Michelle Obama’s highly-hyped-in-the-press 50th birthday party if for no other reason than to show why she’s there and why it was about damn time someone like her was allowed to be on that stage. Then again, last night was about Drake, who proved that the spirit of Wheelchair Jimmy lives on, and that he should probably look into more acting roles in the not too distant future.
Besides, Zamata will get her moment and earn whatever comes after. That was the whole point of hiring her. For those of us who often complain about the “Magical Negro” trope peddled in films, we understand that Zamata can’t don a cap, be the funniest thing in the history of laughter, and teach white people the error of their ways (and the Kenan Thompsons of the world, to boot). It would be wrong to expect her to be everything to everyone in a single night.
In the meantime, Zamata did her job and was no less competent than any of her co-stars. That alone makes Zamata’s night a great success, as it highlights the beauty in diversity and why it still matters so much to so many. When people call on others to diversify their places of employment, they’re not asking that anyone be given preferential treatment. What we ask for is that opportunities that come so easy to certain people who have certain privileges be given to those not so lucky. After that happens, we can prove ourselves.
That is, so long as you give us the chance to.
Michael Arceneaux is from the land of Beyoncé, but now lives in the city of Master Splinters. Follow him at @youngsinick.