In the opening sketch of the night, Washington was cast as first lady Michelle Obama opposite Jay Pharoah’s President Barack Obama.
“It feels like it’s been years since I’ve seen you,” quipped Pharoah poking fun at the fact that the first lady only gets portrayed on the show when an African-American woman, like Maya Rudolph, hosts.
Both of the current African-American cast members, Kenan Thompson and Pharaoh, have reportedly expressed an aversion to playing black women in drag (although Thompson has appeared several times in sketches as Whoopi Goldberg).
A secret service agent (played by Taran Killam) says Oprah Winfrey has stopped by the White House and awkwardly suggests that Washington may want to exit so she can play the media icon. Eventually deadpan titles scroll across the screen acknowledging the show’s diversity issues and apologizing to Washington:
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 tonight. We made these requests both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent and also because SNL does not currently have a black woman in the cast.
As for the latter reason, we agree that 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.
Washington has to make a quick change and then reappears performing a spot-on Winfrey impression. However when she’s asked to play Beyoncé too, she balks.
Meanwhile, because of the show’s plethora of white males the sketch is able to produce at least six different versions of Magic Mike star Matthew McConaughey.
Ultimately, the Rev. Al Sharpton makes a cameo appearance and declares we’ve learned “nothing” from the scene.
The opening was the first real attempt the show has made to respond to criticism of its predominately white cast. The topic has arguably received more attention than any other time in the show’s nearly 40-year history after they added six new cast members, all of whom were white.
In a September interview with theGrio, Pharoah admitted that the show’s producers need to “pay attention” to the problem. This comment was followed by a widely publicized (and ridiculed) remark from Thompson, who argued that SNL has trouble finding black women who are “ready” to join the cast.
The opening sketch suggests the show’s alleged bias against black women would be “rectified” soon, but the show’s legendary producer, Lorne Michaels, hasn’t specified a time table in which that can happen.
“It’s not like it’s not a priority for us” to cast a black, female comedian, producer Michaels told the Associated Press on Thursday. “It will happen. I’m sure it will happen.”
What did you think of SNL’s attempt at self-parody?
And how did Kerry Washington fare as one of the few black women to ever host the show?
Check out this “What Does the Fox Say?” spoof below and let us know.