Earlier this year a loose coalition of national Latino leaders met with two top executives at NBC's Saturday Night Live. The mission was to get the show, which has had a terrible diversity record, to hire some Latinos.
The execs indicated that within a year to a year and a half, favorable changes would be made to the show's cast and writing staff. Well, that change came early. The show announced today that Whittier comedian and performer Melissa Villaseñor is among three new cast members for the 42nd season, which kicks off Oct. 1. She'll be the show's first Latina cast member.*
Alex Nogales, one of those leaders who met with the show's executives, was elated. “Wow,” said the president of the Pasadena-based National Hispanic Media Coalition. “Look at that! I could not be more pleased.”
The latest effort to get Latinos on the program was sparked by SNL's invitation to have Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump host the late-night comedy sketch show last fall. A boycott, protests and even congressional criticism resulted. Trump has been decried by many Latino leaders for his remarks that Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists.
Critics noted that the beloved New York program has had only two Latino cast members — Horatio Sanz and Fred Armisen — in its 41-year history. There have been only about a dozen Latino guest hosts, if that, during that time. Only one or two, including Louis C.K., have the same Mexican background as a vast majority of American Latinos. Mexican-American comic luminaries such as George Lopez, Cheech Marin and Paul Rodriguez have never hosted. Nogales has called it a “brown-out.”
Longtime producer Lorne Michaels was mum about the situation following Trump's appearance and did not speak to the media or to Latino leaders. Interestingly, Villaseñor is a product of a Latino comedy project, Màs Mejor, launched by Michaels, Sanz and Armisen.
She was also on the sixth season of America's Got Talent. The other new cast members announced by SNL via Twitter are Mikey Day and Alex Moffat.
Nogales said the effort to diversify the show is a long-term effort and that the hiring of Villaseñor is only the beginning. “The pressure is on them,” he said. “This can't be a one-shot deal. We've accomplished nothing if that's what it was.”