*Saturday Night Live may be one of the few true institutions left on television anymore – and, frankly, in these dark days for NBC, it’s the network’s one real remaining bright spot – but it’s still plagued with a problem that it’s faced from the very early days of the network: the lack of a real breakout African-American female star to call its own.
It’s a problem that’s remained under the surface for many years before coming up in a storm of controversy, prompted by Kenan Thompson’s ill-made comments from a few weeks ago. Thompson claimed that they haven’t been able to find black, female comedians who are “ready” for primetime. This after the show has employed only four African-American women throughout the show’s storied history: Yvonne Hudson, Ellen Cleghorne, Danitra Vance and Maya Rudolph, with only Rudolph having much of an impact on the show.
It’s beyond time for Saturday Night Live to expand its scope out of the Groundlings – Upright Citizen’s Brigade – Second City improv tropes (as suggested in that excellent Time article) and really search out for some cast diversity. Just claiming that there aren’t any black female comedians out there ready for the spotlight is a lazy argument; it didn’t stop Mad TV from hiring and developing the great Debra Jackson nearly two decades ago, and it sure didn’t stop The Daily Show from finding Jessica Williams last year. The presence of black women on SNL shouldn’t be restricted to a guest host (like Kerry Washington, who was hastily announced as an upcoming host in the wake of the entire controversy). This is one of the truly great American television shows out there, and there’s no excuse for not having a significant part of the population represented at 11:30 every Saturday night.