Andy Samberg and Fred Armisen on October 3, 2010 in New York City.Getty Images
Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz in an October 2005 file photo.2005 NBC
Sasheer Zamata, in a Feb. 11, 2008 photo provided by Cate Hellman Photography.ap
NBC’s comic institution “Saturday Night Live” has answered recent criticism for its lack of diversity by not only hiring black comedian Sasheer Zamata, but adding two black female writers as well.
The show announced Monday they had hired Zamata, who has worked with the New York Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe, to join the cast starting Jan. 18.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones will sign up for the writers’ team next week. They were reportedly among the black female comedians who auditioned during a recent showcase held in New York and Los Angeles.
And while this is a step toward diversifying the faces seen Saturday nights, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) asks once again: what about adding Latino comedians to the cast?
Felix Sanchez, the foundation’s chairman, said the recent hiring is “absolutely” a great and long overdue step forward, but that the concern is that in 39 seasons, SNL has only had two Latino comedians and zero female Latinas in the cast.
“It’s been a 39-year blackout, or brownout,” he said.
Show producers have said diversifying the cast has been a priority for them – meaning adding a female black comedian – but they have not spoken out regarding the lack of Latinos.
In the current season of the long-running comedy sketch show, there are no Asian, Native Americans or Latinos in the cast – although they will play these ethnicities in skits. Horatio Sanz, who left the show in 2006, and Fred Armisen, who departed last season, were the only two Latinos in the cast.
“When Fred was on, he is a Latino by birth, but that is not how he is positioned in the marketplace,” Sanchez said of Armisen, who is of Venezuelan descent. “It’s not that they don’t include Latino characters (in skits), it’s just that they don’t have any Latinos portraying them.”
If the show’s producers are viewing diversity as a “black-white issue” they have completed in satisfying their critics, but the discussion needs to be broader, Sanchez said.
“Diversity has shifted to reflect a multicultural world and SNL, as a pop culture entity, must represent the mosaic of Americana,” he said.
This is a reiteration of the argument that Sanchez’s group, along with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda and 12 other groups, said in a letter sent to the show’s executive producer Lorne Michaels in November.
Sanchez said after the letter was sent, they met with Craig Robinson, chief diversity officer at NBCUniversal, but have not heard back from him since. To date, Michaels has not responded to their request to meet to further discuss the issue.
“That’s very offensive, but it shows a state of denial that networks have toward hiring Latino talent,” he said.
Sanchez said they will continue to push the issue until NBC and Michaels listen. In fact, NHFA has teamed up with Presente.org to start a petition they hope to send over soon.
Arturo Carmona, from Presente.org, said their efforts and those of thousands of their members are focused on “working to get mainstream national news and entertainment shows to pay attention to the more than 55 million Latinos in the U.S.”
“It’s a real crisis in the Latino community,” he told Fox News Latino in an email. “We want Latinos to be aware of how some network television shows like ‘Saturday Night Live’ view Latinos as either insignificant or unworthy of the kind of attention that merits having Latino cast members. We want Latinos to make good choices about what networks and what TV shows they watch.”
Carmona said nearly 8,000 Presente members have signed the ongoing petition.
Follow Lucia I. Suarez on Twitter @luciasuarezsang