Alex Yarde thinks SNL’s new push for a black female cast member is the latest example of social media righting a wrong.
When is an audition not an audition? When you hastily gather as many black female comedians (yes they do exist) as you can to audition for a part only because pressure is mounting to do so. Actress Bresha Webb (above) said this to the Jasmine BRAND about the “Secret” SNL tryout, held at LA’s Groundlings Theater:
“The audition came about from an inside source from SNL. I don’t think any of us had a clue about the showcase until two days prior. It was an awesome opportunity even though it was such a short notice but, if you stay ready you ain’t gotta get ready and we were ready Lol. But we were all honored to be selected.”
With Seth Myers leaving for Late Night, it’s a rare opportunity for Lorne and the gang at SNL to clean up their act mid season. In the nearly 40 years in which SNL has been on air, they’ve featured only four black female cast members. (read my article The Blackslide: The Golden Age Of Blacks On Television) It’s even worse for Asians and let’s not even get into Native Americans. So why the sudden change at NBC Universal? Certainly one has to acknowledge that social media played a big part in this. Clearly these recent auditions are part of a push to quell the unexpected backlash of adding six all white new cast members (one female five male) and include a black female cast member this season. Though I agree it wasn’t a priority to Lorne Micheals, it quickly became one as the continued and mounting pressure didn’t let up. December 1st the New York Times reported Michaels “did not attribute the sudden surge of interest in securing a black female directly to criticism on social media that then continued in the press, but acknowledged that it was “100 percent good for the show to have an African-American woman” in the cast. Then last thursday Michaels told the Associated Press, “It’s not like it’s not a priority for us [to cast a black female comedian]. It will happen. I’m sure it will happen.” How seriously did Saturday Night Live take the media furor around its lack of a black female performer?
Seriously enough to hold a special audition Monday night on the SNL stage for seven or eight black female candidates, one of whom will be hired and will join the cast for shows beginning in January. Mid season casting like this has never happened before in the show’s 38 year history.
This shows the power of today’s social media and should be a signal for people of color that being quiet or patient “hat in hand” doesn’t make progress. One can see this happening with the awesome #notyourasiansidekick hashtag burning up twitter for the last 24 hours. It was started by Ms. Suey Park, a freelance writer, organizer and graduate student and discusses feminist schisms and highlights the harm the “Model minority” stereotypes are to Asians. This is a great example of how one voice can ignite a global dialogue.
Even Twitter itself isn’t immune to the immediacy and withering lambasting a passionate vocal group can unleash on social media to focus attention on an issue. Twitter added an update to its block feature that started quite a stir. The update allowed a user one has blocked to still see and retweet one’s tweets to his or her followers. Twitter users (myself included) were not silent about their dislike for this new feature and #restoretheblock immediately went viral. On Friday the 13th, the same day the change took place, Michael Sippey (@sippey), VP of Product released this statement:
Earlier today, we made a change to the way the ‘block’ function of Twitter works. We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users – we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe. Any blocks you had previously instituted are still in effect. In reverting this change to the block function, users will once again be able to tell that they’ve been blocked. We believe this is not ideal, largely due to the retaliation against blocking users by blocked users (and sometimes their friends) that often occurs. Some users worry just as much about post-blocking retaliation as they do about pre-blocking abuse. Moving forward, we will continue to explore features designed to protect users from abuse and prevent retaliation.
I look forward to the public square to increase and become more accessible and diverse. According to a recent Business Insider article, by the end of 2013, global smartphone penetration will have exploded from 5% of the global population in 2009, to 22%. That’s an increase of nearly 1.3 billion smartphones in four years. On average, there will be two smartphones for every nine people on earth, or 1.4 billion smartphones, by the end of 2013. Tablets are geared to surpass those numbers. These numbers mean something. Large media conglomerates like NBC Universal are not going to be able to ignore these disparate voices much longer. The choices they make with regarding diversity and gender equality in mass media both in front of and behind the cameras are going to be scrutinized and the tipping point for accountability is rapidly approaching.
-photo Brennan Schmidt / Flickr