In this satirical take on award shows, Saturday Night Live (SNL) pokes fun at the racial biases that accompany U.S. entertainment industry award show decisions. In the piece, five White actors are introduced for the year’s “Best Actor” award. As each potential winner is announced, the clips of their work that are shown, usually meant to display their acting fortitude, actually highlight their Black co-stars rather than those nominated. For example, one film features an emotional performance of a Black actor as Thurgood Marshall yet his White costar is nominated for his minor performance as a librarian announcing closing time. During the satirical ceremony, the camera cuts to the reaction of the actors as they are being recognized for their work. The White actors being acknowledged make uncomfortable facial expressions or are entirely oblivious to being honored for their glaringly lackluster performance over their fellow Black cast members, who are seen in the background, with looks of scorn or disapproval on their faces. The video ends with the announcer saying that the award is a five-way tie between all the White actors who celebrate on stage, cheering loudly, “We did it!”
This video, first shown in 2016, ties with the “Oscars So White” movement—the social media campaign that criticized the lack of racial and ethnic representation and recognition at the Oscars award show. SNL themselves has also come under fire over the years for lacking diversity in their casting. This short is both illuminating and self-reflexive, as the same Black cast members are used multiple times in the clip to express disapproval of dominant onscreen portrayals, while also representing a lack of a range of underrepresented talent amongst their own ranks.
Several of the films parodied in this piece were actual movies shown in theaters in 2015. What statement does this satirical video make about award shows and Hollywood generally?
Awards such as Oscars or Golden Globes are awarded based upon organization members voting for their favorite films from the previous year. How might the diversity, or lack there of, of these decision-making groups affect what films are critically celebrated? Why does this matter?
SNL has added a number of Black actors to their cast over the years and featured five Black actors in their 2015-2016 company. However, Asian, Latino, and people from other racial and ethnic backgrounds are still few. How might a lack of diversity in casting affect SNL’s ability to engage with the entire American viewing audience?
Why does diversity matter both on screen and behind the scenes, such as with writers, directors, and producers of movies, tv, music, books, and other content?