Tom Joyner Morning Show commentator Roland Martin talks with Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorofChange.org about Saturday Night Live making light of the lack of black female cast members and what he thinks needs to be done for change to occur,.
ROLAND MARTIN : Over the weekend Kerry Washington hostedSaturday Night Live, of course, and more black people watchedSaturday Night Live for the first time since Eddie Murphy was on the show. And they decided to actually make light of the fact that there are no black female cast members with a particular skit. And here was some audio they actually played that scrolled across the team:
‘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. We made this request both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and tact. And also because SNL does not currently have a black woman in the cast. As for the latter reason, we agree 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.’
This, of course, is not a laughing matter to Rashad Robinson, of course, of Colorofchange.org. They’ve been demanding a meeting with Lorne Michaels, the Executive Producer of SNL by November 6th. Rashad joins us right now, Rashad, good morning.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
ROLAND MARTIN : Again, so SNL makes light of the fact that they have no female black cast members, but for you it’s not a laughing matter.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Well, you know, the underemployment of black people in general is not a laughing matter, but when Keenan Thompson went out in the media and said that black women simply weren’t ready for the show, that was sort of when we started to really look at this matter. In 39 years of SNL only three black women have been part of the cast, but the show consistently, you know, covers and highlights the images of black women. And so we not only want to meet with Lorne Michael, he has sort of responded to our letter in the AP, but we want to get some definitive answers in terms of what are they going to do next to insure that this does not continue to simply just be a laughing matter, but something that they solve.
ROLAND MARTIN : Now, Rashad, it goes beyond even just those folks who are on the show, and look, Jay knows this well, what I’m about to talk about, when you talk about these shows you have few black writers. And what happens is …
J. ANTHONY BROWN: Black writers, producers, directors, all of it, you’re right.
ROLAND MARTIN : … right. And so what happens is a lot of people get sitcom gigs, get other kinds of gigs because they worked on SNL, and so when you’re African American you don’t get an opportunity, you don’t get inside the door, than that limits you in other opportunities down the road.
RASHAD ROBINSON: You know, we see this across so many different industries, but the fact that SNL continues to laugh about it, yes, absolutely. SNL is a pipeline for many folks, from Conan O’Brien, to Jimmy Fallon to Tina Fey. And when black folks are cut out of those opportunities, we are limited in terms of how we see our representation and our images on television. And for us at Colorofchange, which believes not only in changing politics and policy, but changing culture. What people see and what people hear in our media has a tremendous effect on what they do every day and how they see our community. And we believe that, you know, SNL has the responsibility not just to joke about this matter, but to actually deal with the fact that in, you know, 2013, having a show that’s been on the air for 39 years and simply only having three black women as part of their cast is unacceptable.
ROLAND MARTIN : What did you think of Reverend Al Sharpton coming on at the end …
SYBIL WILKES: I was going to ask about that.
ROLAND MARTIN : … and uses part of the skit as well?
RASHAD ROBINSON: You know, I mean, I’m hoping that Reverend Sharpton’s involvement that, that the way in which they addressed it at the end is, you know, Lorne Michael and SNL’s way of sort of winking and nodding at the audience in the satirical way that they do by saying that they’re going to fix this problem. But for us, you know, fixing this problem goes beyond, as you all mentioned, just simply adding one black female cast member who a whole lot of pressure is going to be put on her in the first or second year, but also to have a real conversation about diversity and creating a real pipeline of opportunity, not only this show, but across Hollywood. And for us, at Colorofchange, you know, the SNL opportunity, the visibility that we can create around this conversation to not just talk about this individual show, but the industry as a whole was given to us when Keenan Thompson said that black women simply aren’t ready for the show. We believe that this is a bigger discussion, but we’re starting at SNL because of the role that they’ve played in launching so many careers.
TOM JOYNER: Roland and Sybil, let’s talk for a minute what you just brought up about the behind the scenes, the writers, the producers. And it’s not just SNL. Some of your so-called black shows with black stars have few, if any …
SYBIL WILKES: If any.
TOM JOYNER: … black writers.
SYBIL WILKES: Arsenio Hall.
J. ANTHONY BROWN: One, he has one.
TOM JOYNER: Let’s talk about Arsenio Hall.
J. ANTHONY BROWN: He has one. He has one.
TOM JOYNER: He has one. And he did a bit in his opening week.
J. ANTHONY BROWN: In the staff.
SYBIL WILKES: With his staff.
J. ANTHONY BROWN: With his staff.
TOM JOYNER: He did a bit about his staff being white, but their souls are black. He did a whole, about a five, six-minute bit where he went behind the scenes and he showed all of his staff, he says I have a big staff, I have 40 people. And there was like one, only one black person on Arsenio’s staff.
J. ANTHONY BROWN: Well, this is all of Hollywood. It’s Hollywood all together.
TOM JOYNER: Right.
J. ANTHONY BROWN: That’s the way it is, and unless you demand it …
TOM JOYNER: And when you worked for Arsenio, player, when you worked for Arsenio, you were a writer.
SYBIL WILKES: You were it.
TOM JOYNER: How many black writers were in the writing room with you?
J. ANHTONY BROWN: It was me.
TOM JOYNER: Just you?
SYBIL WILKES: Tag, you were it.
ROLAND MARTIN : But Tom, what happens is the same thing that happens in broadcast, if you don’t get a shot elsewhere, then they say; well, we can’t find people, and then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, it goes around and round, one person has hires another person …
J. ANTHONY BROWN: Oh, they can find people, they don’t hire the people.
ROLAND MARTIN: I understand, yeah.
J. ANTHONY BROWN: Those people, black writers apply for those jobs all the time, and they don’t get it.
ROLAND MARTIN: I got you.
J. ANTHONY BROWN: And they don’t get it.
SYBIL WILKES: So Rashad, today is the 4th, you said by the 6th. What are the chances?
RASHAD ROBINSON: So by the 6th. He’s responded back to us in the press. We’re hoping to get a meeting on the books, but folks can sort of join us and join our campaign by texting SNL to 225568, they can text SNL to 225568 and join us. And after the 6th we’re going to be doing what we do at Colorofchanges, mobilizing the voices of everyday people, giving our nearly one million members the ability to respond and hold SNL accountable. So the 6th was an opportunity to have a meeting and to have a discussion, but after that we’ll be doing the work that we do every day to not just talk about it behind the scenes, but to give our members, to give every day black folks and their allies the ability to say enough is enough, change is needed.