By Felix Sanchez
This year marked the 39th season of Saturday Night Live. The season began with extensive criticism of SNL for its lack of diversity, namely the lack of an African American female cast member. This week, SNL named Sasheer Zamata as a full-fledged cast member, the first black woman featured player since 2007. End of story? Not so fast.
It might be, if diversity were only a black/white issue. The New York Times, U.S.A. Today, The Washington Post and numerous other media platforms have all covered this story from the same narrow racial perspective; none of them have questioned the lack of other minorities or the fact that we live in a multiracial/multiethnic world.
In November 2013, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) and members of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) sent a letter to Lorne Michaels requesting a meeting to discuss the lack of Latino inclusivity on Saturday Night Live. In December 2013, NHFA and members of NHLA met with NBCU’s Senior Vice President for Diversity, Craig Robinson, to discuss our meeting request.
To date, we have not received a response from Lorne Michaels, NBCU or Comcast to our letter.
This season there are no Asian, Native American or Latino cast members. In fact, in 39 seasons, SNL’s Executive Producer, Lorne Michaels, has never hired a Latina cast member — a 39-year Latina brownout. Yet the show has had no problem spoofing Latina stereotypes, most notably last season by Cecily Strong, the new Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchor.
Saturday Night Live has only had two Latino cast members
Similarly, in 39 years, Saturday Night Live has had only two Latino cast members: Chilean American Horatio Sanz, who left the show in 2006, and Fred Armisen, whose mother is Venezuelan and left the cast last season. Strangely, I don’t recall Armisen ever playing a Latino character on the show.
SNL’s diversity problem extends beyond its regular cast. In its 39-year history it has only had 20 Latino hosts and 16 musical guests. In both categories, eight artists ― Christina Aguilera, Cameron Diaz, Nelly Furtado, Jennifer Lopez, Bruno Mars, Linda Rondstadt, Santana and Shakira ― have made repeated appearances, further reducing the diversity of Latino talent that could have been showcased.
This season, there are zero Latino cast members, and there have been zero Latino hosts and zero Latino musical guests. Lorne Michaels used Kerry Washington’s appearance earlier this season to spoof SNL’s lack of African American diversity.
No other diversity seems critical to Saturday Night Live, despite the fact that, according to Nielsen ratings, Latinos comprised an average 9 percent of viewers for the first 10 shows of the season. And let’s not forget that 27.5 percent of New York City residents are Latinos..
SNL executives could argue that their job is to present the best combination of talent they can find, regardless of ethnicity. That may be a defensible position for some, but it does not excuse SNL from making an effort to reach out to sources where talent in different shades of brown can be found.
Rick Najera, in his book Almost White, notes that three participants from the CBS Comedy Showcase, which he directs ― Nasim Pedrad, Kate McKenna and John Milhiser from the CBS Comedy Showcase ― have been cast on Saturday Night Live. The nine-year-old annual multicultural Showcase presents an array of diversity comedians, including Latinos.
Are we to congratulate SNL now that they have cast an African American woman and leave it at that? We live in a multicultural society where Latinos are the largest minority and the black-white paradigm no longer applies. The 2012 presidential elections showed how much of a political force U.S. Latinos have become, and our economic buying power is undisputed.
U.S. demography has shifted and will continue to trend multiethnic/multicultural. Saturday Night Live’s trademark has always been its ability to reflect a changing culture with audacious humor, while serving as a springboard for aspiring young comics. If it loses that edge, something else will and should take its place, something that reflects America’s true diversity today.
Felix Sanchez is the Chairman and Co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts