"Saturday Night Live" adds black woman to cast

1/9/2014, 4:19 p.m.
Six years after the departure of its last Black woman cast member, Saturday Night Live finally has another. NBC announced ...

(DIVERSITY, Inc.) - Six years after the departure of its last black woman cast member, Saturday Night Live finally has another. NBC announced on Monday that Sasheer Zamata will join the show when it returns from hiatus on Jan. 18.

An Indianapolis native who graduated from the University of Virginia and is based in Brooklyn, Zamata was hired following a series of auditions over the last month. The tryouts came about in response to earlier criticism about the lack of diversity in the show’s cast. Zamata was one of a reported 12 black women who received callbacks to a final audition on Dec. 16.

“We are delighted by Saturday Night Live‘s announcement that Sasheer Zamata will be joining the cast as a featured player,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorofChange.org. “Zamata is a talented comedian and we congratulate her on seizing this great opportunity.”

In SNL’s 39th season, Zamata becomes just the fifth black woman cast member, joining Yvonne Hudson (1980–1981), Danitra Vance (1985–1986), Ellen Cleghorne (1991–1995) and Maya Rudolph (2000–2007). The show has had nine black men cast members including current stars Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson.

The Hollywood Reporter reported that SNL also added two Black women to its writing staff, hiring LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones. Tookes and Jones both took part in the audition process that produced Zamata, with Tookes a finalist. The Reporter says currently there are no plans to put Tookes and Jones in front of the camera, but it’s very possible they could be added to the cast later: Tina Fey and Jason Sudeikis are among the cast members who originally joined SNL as writers.

According to published reports, SNL has had an eye on Zamata for at least two years, when she participated in at least one other showcase. In March 2013, she posted four photos on her Tumblr of a visit to the SNL offices, including one of her on the set.

Like many other current and former SNL cast members, the 27-year-old Zamata is a veteran of the Upright Citizens Brigade. She is well known in comedy circles for her standup routines and videos.

Zamata’s legal name is Sasheer Moore. She told Time Out New York in 2009 that her first name comes from an episode of Star Trek. “In season two, episode 50, Captain Kirk is flirting with this alien princess,” Zamata said. “He gives her a rose and she goes, ‘Oh, this is beautiful! We have something like this on my planet—it’s called sasheer and it’s made out of crystal.”

At the start of her junior year at Virginia, Zamata was hit by a car and suffered serious injuries. The outpouring of support she received during her recovery inspired her future career. In a 2010 collection of essays, Zamata wrote: “This show of love made me realize how I underestimated the value of other people. … The goodness in others surpassed the drama that was depressing me. I found happiness from this event, and I plan to spread it to others.”