Saturday Night Live has hired its first female African-American cast member since Maya Rudolph’s departure in 2007, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Sasheer Zamata, who has performed at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in New York City, will join the cast on the show’s January 18th episode, which Drake will host.
Zamata moved to New York City in 2009, after graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in drama. Since then, she has been performing at the UCB Theater and has made appearances in sketches on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer. She has also acted on MTV’s Hey Girl and ABC’s Would You Fall for That?, as well as various commercials. According to the bio on her site, she has also done standup at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, the Great American Comedy Festival, Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch Showcase and more and has participated on the Bonnaroo365 tour as an opening comic.
The comedienne’s hiring comes after the show drew scrutiny for the dearth of black female comics in the cast. The controversy began in November after cast member Kenan Thompson said he would no longer dress in drag to play black women. Fellow cast member Jay Pharaoh also spoke out and said that SNL should make good on its promise to add a black female cast member. In December, producer Lorne Michaels held auditions in Los Angeles and New York and saw a reported 25 actresses. By the middle of the month, Michaels said he had narrowed his selection down to two contenders. The other candidate was Amber Ruffin.
The show made fun of itself shortly after Thompson’s statements when it ran a bit with host Kerry Washington playing myriad roles, including Michele Obama and Beyoncé, in a matter of minutes. It had added six new featured players at the start of the season, but all are white with the exception of Noel Wells, who is of Hispanic-Tunisian descent.