Open Thread: Sasheer Zamata & Drake on SNL

By Arturo R. García

Expectations were high surrounding this past weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live, as it unveiled a more diverse lineup both in front of and behind the camera.

While the ostensible lead was guest star Drake, pulling double-duty as the show’s musical guest, the show also marked the debut of Sasheer Zamata, the first woman of color in the ensemble since Maya Rudolph’s — who is of multi-racial heritage — departure. Zamata’s hire was precipitated at least in part by the furor over Kenan Thompson’s infamous “they never find ones who are ready” remark in November. But, perhaps even more crucially, the show also added two women of color to the writing team in Leslie Jones and LaKendra Tookes.

So far, the results appear to be positive: the show scored decently enough ratings-wise, and Drake’s performance has been well-received enough to suggest he should get the Justin Timberlake open-door policy.

But how do you feel the episode did? Did Zamata get enough opportunities to spotlight herself? Do the new additions make you more optimistic about the show? And is anybody else stuck seeing Rick Ross as a Red Teletubby now? Here’s a couple more videos for those of you who didn’t catch the show.

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.

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  • MichelleToo

    I am very, very aware of Maya Rudolph’s parentage. Did you know that Minnie Riperton’s song “Loving You” was a tribute to little Maya? There is actually footage of her singing Maya’s name in the song. I assume most of you have seen it since you guys were so quick to lay down the Maya Rudolph history.

    Speaking of Maya Rudolph history, there is a HBO series called the Black List. Maya Rudolph is featured. In it she has a very (what I thought was beautiful) moment where she shares that she is not, and does not consider herself a Black woman, nor does she consider herself a White woman. She says that she considers herself something different and apart, and yet both things are a part of her identity.

    I was using that as my basis for being ADAMANT that we refer to Maya Rudolph as mixed race, or multiracial, or ANYTHING but Black because she herself has maintained that she is in fact NOT BLACK. In fact, on Up All Night, she has a moment with the little baby and she says, perhaps she is not used to “being around a woman of color”. It was a funny little moment, and a good piece of writing. However, it was also a peek into Maya Rudolph the actress.

    MOST IMPORTANTLY, calling Maya Rudolph Black gives credit to SNL that I don’t think is necessarily due. Maya Rudolph does not consider herself Black, and to the naked eye as it were, she doesn’t look Black. So they hired a woman who was, in essence, White. They could use her the same way the used all the White women in the show. They didn’t have to see past color, or hair or Blackness. The very Blackness that we as Black actresses bring into the room with us regardless of what we do or say. It is there. And the people (producers, writers, directors) look at us and go “But what are we going to do with her?” I assert that that doesn’t happen to Maya Rudolph, nor does she seem to stand up publicly for the inclusion of Black women in comedy. NOT THAT SHE HAS TO DO A DAMN THING! Please, don’t get me wrong. I am simply saying that Maya Rudolph has no skin in this game, no pun intended. And calling her Black, or saying that SNL hired her and she was Black, or that this new cast member has anything in common with her is absurd. It actually takes away from the gravity of the moment. The last Black woman to be on SNL was Ellen Cleghorne and she left in 1995. I wonder what she would have to say about her time there and how included she felt in the world of (White Male) comedy.

  • TNBu

    Most solid ep of SNL I’ve seen in a while. I didn’t have any expectations and didn’t really know anything about Drake except the Drake-Chris Brown-Rhianna TMZ drama. He’s clearly a pro and did a good job in everything. The ‘cosplay’ part of the ‘Resolution’ skit made me snort out loud.

    Sasheer Zamata has great screen presence and timing. I hope she gets in some skits where she’s the main subject. She’s clearly got the talent.

  • MichelleToo

    First of all, I wish that people would stop referring to Maya Rudolph as Black. I know, I know, here at Racialicious you have solved the problems of being multi-ethnic, but I thought the bottom line was that people are allowed to self identify. And she pointedly DOES NOT identify as Black, so how do we get to call her Black.

    We didn’t get to see enough of her so I guess the jury is still out on whether or not she will be used well or just as a token Black girl. And with Drake on the line up, this was really a great opportunity for the writers to come up with a great skit for her…I am curious to see if she’ll make the cut when Chris Pine hosts. So, I guess I am not very hopeful.

    That said, the Drake episode was funny. The Black and Jewish skit at the top could have been way funnier. It is clear that Drake is funny and could have been brilliant with some better writing, like he was with the Kat Williams/Nancy Grace skit. That was comedy!

    • Delevan

      So Maya Rudolph doesn’t want to identify as black, but has no problem playing stereotypical black characters on SNL and other stuff she has been in? I could care less about SNL, but your complaint about racialicious identifying her as black is just nick picking and BS.

      • Michelle Kirkwood

        Actually, Rudolph has in fact identified herself as black–in some interview interviews she alludes to it—and the few times I saw her on SNL, she usually played stereotypical white characters more than anything, but she actually played Maya Angelou in a SNL skit once, and there was even a sketch she did where she actually says into a phone, Yeah, I’m stuck here with these white b*****s,”—I thought it was funny of course. So,my suggestion is, find out if a mixed person actually does ID themselves as black (if they are) instead of assuming that they don’t.

    • Delevan

      Maya Rudolph is the daughter of Minnie Riperton who was a famous R&B singer of African decent, which would make Maya Rudolph someone who is also of African decenther father is white. Being that she is of African decent and mentioning it is not an attack on her multi ethnic background it’s acknowledging her ancestry. The fact that you want to knit pick on this is a real problem with me, because no one at racialicious has forced her to identify as anything they are just stating a fact.

      And if she has a problem with identifying with being of African decent or being black, yet has no problems with playing stereotypical characters on SNL and in movies, which she has done, then she has some serious issues.

      SNL is just an unfunny irrelevant show that is way past it’s prime, can NBC just put it out to pasture already? Adding new black faces to the cast and/or writing staff is not going to stop them from using the same tired jokes were POC play up racial stereotypes for cheap desperate laughs.

    • racialicious

      I know, I know, here at Racialicious you have solved the problems of being multi-ethnic,

      Whoa, whoa, what is that comment about?

      Mixed identity is a challenging thing, and hard to capture, even when people are being intentional about it. For example, we got tons of shade for identifying Obama as black, even though he identifies as “a black man of mixed racial heritage.” Maya Rudolph, to me, occupies the same strange racial space as Rashida Jones – it is their right to choose to identify as they will, and for that identity to shift as they need. But when you are talking about comedy, and particularly playing up stereotypes around race, self-identification is a key part of the joke.

      • racialicious

        Oh, and doing a quick read of the open thread, we can be better about identifying mixed celebs as they do – so we will amend this one to reflect that Maya R. is mixed. But please remember that next time we refer to Halle Berry as black, or any other mixed celeb that identifies more with one part of their background.

      • MichelleToo

        I am aware of the complexities of identity, mixed race identity, transgendered identity and how difficult it can be to find one’s place in a world that never seems to adequately reflect or understand all of who you are.

        That said, this site can be a place where there is a particular short hand when dealing with mixed race identity. So when you referred to Maya Rudolph as Black, I assume that you were invoking the Racialicious short hand for a very complex identity. I was not saying that mixed race identity was not complex.