U.Va. reacts to the premiere of Sasheer Zamata on SNL

February 13, 2014

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Alison Kuhn

The debut of new SNL cast member Sasheer Zamata was long anticipated by the media and SNL fans, after Lorne Michaels faced critical attention for his predominantly white, male cast. The UVA alumna is the first African American female to grace the SNL stage in six years.

Check out this chart that illustrates SNL’s historical problem with maintaining a diverse cast. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/17/snl-diversity-problem_n_4611546.html

Zamata began her comedic career at the University of Virginia, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama. She then continued on to become part of the improv comedy troupe, Upright Citizens Brigade. The troupe is based in New York but originally emerged from Chicago’s famous ImprovOlympic. With the University of Virginia’s overwhelming support and love for successful UVA alumna, Tina Fey, it was incredibly exciting to hear that another UVA alumna was making their big break in the comedy world.

Both Zamata and Fey were taught by Professor Richard Warner, a current professor in the University of Virginia’s drama department. He found his two students to have similarities. “She’s very much like Tina. She’s a social critic, and she’s a feminist. She says, ‘This is what we think, but we don’t have the gumption to say it,’” Warner said in the New York Daily News. For his full interview, please visit this link. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/sasheer-zamata-path-saturday-night-live-article-1.156938 She was featured in five out of the 11 sketches on the January 18th debut episode, where she portrayed such characters as Barbadian pop-star Rihanna, the aunt of hip-hop mogul Drake, and a young girl hosting a slumber party.

How should audiences receive her debut? Was she featured as a key SNL player or was she a mere response to media criticism of SNL? Cailin Sisk, a third-year Media Studies major, shared her thoughts on Zamata’s first episode. "Sasheer Zamata was awesome in her first episode - she was so prominent and was shown in nearly every skit, although she didn't speak a whole lot,” Sisk said. “Unfortunately, after all of the controversy surrounding her hiring, it seemed like SNL's producers really wanted to show off their new example of diversity. At the same time, I'm really glad to see more diversity and to see them showing more black comedians satirizing mainstream conceptions of black culture."  

Here’s what other WaHoos had to say about her debut: "It didn't really seem like she was given a main role - they just used her when they needed a black woman. But maybe it'll get better as it goes on." Kim Carlisle, Elementary Ed (Curry), 3rd year "It was a really good episode to premiere her. They weren't trying to hide her as a black woman, which I liked. Particularly with Drake, it was unashamedly black. But at the same time, it could have also been perceived as, ‘oh look at our new black woman!’ but she kicked so much a**, it didn't matter." - Sara Firestone, Foreign Affairs, 3rd year "I don't have a really strong memory of that episode, but I vaguely remember thinking that she was funny."  -Colin Parker, Math, 3rd year Despite some disputes about her first episode, U.Va. students are eager to see what Zamata will bring to SNL in the future.


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