Monday, October 20, 2008

SNL in Blackface

Sarah Palin looks like Tina Fey, a fantastic coincidence that made Saturday Night Live relevant this election season. What's more, SNL has started showing half-hour spots following The Office. That means that me and my friends have been consuming SNL much more often than we usually might.

While we've generally enjoyed the political commentary, and that just repeating things that Sarah Palin says is plenty funny by itself, something's been troubling me about it. Fred Armisen has been portraying Barack Obama. (And his impersonation of Obama actually sounds quite a lot like Pablo!) This past Thursday, Darryl Hammond portrayed Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Both did a reasonably good job of picking up some of the funnier idiosyncrasies of each character, my problem is not with their talent. It's that neither man was Black.

There is one Black actor on the cast of SNL, Kenan Thompson. In fact, there have been fewer than 10 people of color on the cast of SNL in the past decade or so, including Armisen, who is of Venezuelan and Japanese descent.

Well, surprise, people of color are relevant. It would bother me a lot if women were portrayed by men on SNL because they had failed to hire any women. And not just because it looks ridiculous, because I enjoy drag as much as the next liberal college student, but because I really, truly believe that people deserve a say in how they are portrayed.

When TV characters of color are already pushed into pretty little racialized boxes which are racial cones of silence, in which none of them talk to each other about race, it's a problem when White people get to decide what is said about them, how it is said, and what it looks like.

And even though SNL is no longer the representation of the zeitgeist it once was, media representations are seen, and are relevant, and create the images we have of each other. The point is that if SNL wants to portray people of color, they should hire people of color to do it. White people should absolutely not have a monopoly on the portrayal of people of color.

Check out the performances here:
Fred Armisen as Barack Obama

Darrell Hammond as Jesse Jackson


Pablo Kenney said...

Fred Armisen impersonating Barack Obama sounds like me? Or Fred Armisen impersonating Barack Obama sounds like me impersonating Barack Obama?

Jill Rodde said...

Sounds like you. Emily noticed it first, but it's definitely there.

P.S. Do you impersonate Barack Obama, too? You really need to tell me these things.