Lena Dunham and SNL Jewelry Party Sketch Demonstrate The Show's Diversity Problem, Yet Again
The reviews are in for Lena Dunham's performance on SNL. And damn, did the internet love her. While I agree that Dunham did a phenomenal job as host, what she didn't manage to do is escape her own — or SNL's — reputation for racial and class ignorance. Saturday's episode has been called a "feminist extravaganza," and perhaps that classification is deserved: It perfectly mirrored the history of western feminism by favoring white women's issues over issues of race and class.
I blame one sketch in particular.
As if the What's Poppin and The Katt Williams Show sketches (where Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson were subjected to playing SNL's usual black stereotypes) weren't enough, it was the Jewelry Party sketch that really managed to ignorantly encapsulate the show's disinterest in considering race and class as feminist issues.
In the sketch, Lena Dunham hosts a jewelry party for her coworkers. One of her coworkers is Marisol, a sassy beauty pageant queen from Venezuela (how original). Marisol has brought her white American boyfriend to the party. The twist? He's a men's right activist. Poor dumb Marisol thinks he's an equal rights activist until her enlightened coworkers explain her error to her very slowly. Because, you know, she must not speak English.
I'm normally a huge fan of Cecily Strong but holy crap, wtf was that Cecily? And that accent? You sounded like a toddler that was excited about learning new words.
What's almost worse here than the insulting portrayal itself is the missed opportunity by the feminist community to call the show out on this sketch. While many media outlets acknowledged that the sketch was a "dud," most of their reasons were misplaced. It wasn't unfunny because of the shy men's rights activist — it was awkward because of its horrifically racist depiction of a Venezuelan woman.
Newsflash: Racism isn't funny. I know SNL has been trying to address its diversity problem by hiring Sasheer Zamata, but after seeing this week's show, it's quite obvious SNL doesn't understand the extent of its problem.
I shouldn't be surprised that SNL tends to think of diversity as mainly a black and white issue. After all, this kind of thinking doesn't only pertain to SNL — it's endemic to our society. Despite Latinos being the largest ethnic minority in the United States, it didn't seem to occur to anyone at SNL that the Jewelry Party sketch was widely offensive to a large portion of its audience. It also didn't occur to most reviewers of the show when they praised the episode's feminist triumph the next day. And apparently, it still doesn't occur to SNL to have Latino, Asian or Native American cast members of both genders.
This sketch is just troubling reminder of the extent to which Latinos are disregarded in the United States. When we're not being portrayed as sassy, dumb, loud, sexpots like Sofía Vergara on Modern Family, we're being discriminated against in real life by our own government. Right-wing members of Congress have no problem with calling us 'illegals,' or flat-out telling us to deport ourselves.
It's not a coincidence that our lack of respect on-screen reflects a lack of respect off-screen. All the more reason for us to get in that writer's room, and into that sketch.