Saturday Night Live to Hire Black Woman

By Albert Lin

Thompson should be able to retire his Whoopi Goldberg impression.

In the wake of widespread criticism about the lack of diversity in the cast of Saturday Night Live, NBC confirmed that it plans to add at least one Black woman to the show when it returns in January.

The New York Times reports that seven or eight finalists will formally audition in New York on Monday night, with one or two being hired. The process began with an 11-woman showcase in Los Angeles on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (one apparently not attended by creator and Executive Producer Lorne Michaels), followed by a second session in New York a week later, with Michaels in attendance.

“All told we’ve seen about 25 people,” Michaels told the Times. “A lot of the people we saw are really good. Hopefully we’ll come out of the process well.”

Although Michaels said he does not remember ever adding a new cast member in the middle of a season, he did not attribute his willingness to do so to the outcry over the show’s lack of diversity. He did tell the Times that it’s “100 percent good for the show to have an African-American woman.”

He defended his casting process, saying, “We’re all about talent. It doesn’t help if somebody’s not ready—and ‘ready’ is one of the charged words. But you want to be sure you give people the best possible shot.”

Given all the uproar, the new cast member is sure to be under the microscope. “That’s one reason we took extra time,” Michaels said. “You have to be careful to try to protect your players.”

Gothamist first reported details of the Los Angeles showcase, including this Dec. 2 Instagram photo from Simone Shepherd of the 11 women who tried out:

along with Shepherd’s tweet (which has since been taken down): “The hilarious BLACK women who just rock the SNL audition. #WeJustMadeHistory”

Among the 11 was Darmirra Brunson, whom current SNL cast member Jay Pharaoh had touted back in September as his choice to join the show.

In its 39th season, Saturday Night Live has had just 13 Black cast members, only four of whom were women. The most recent, biracial Maya Rudolph, left the show in 2007, leaving Pharaoh and Kenan Thompson to play female roles while wearing wigs. The two refused to do so this season, leaving writers to come up with sketches in which SNL poked fun at its own lack of diversity.

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