SNL‘s Star Trek Sketch Less Progressive in 2017 Than the 1960s Show It Parodies
Chris Pine does a great William Shatner, tho.
Chris Pine had some great moments during his recent stint hosting Saturday Night Live. There was, of course, this Handmaid’s Tale sketch that deftly addressed the issue of male privilege, and there was the Star Trek parody above, which shows us a “lost” episode of TOS with Pine doing a killer Shatner impression. However, the sketch also highlighted a huge issue with SNL itself. Where the hell are the Asian cast members, and who was that dude playing Sulu?
I’ll take the second part first. That dude is SNL production designer Akira Yoshimura, who’s been with the show since the very beginning. In fact, not only has he been with the show since the first season, but he’s also played Sulu before—several times. The first time was opposite John Belushi’s Captain Kirk in a 1976 sketch titled “The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise” from Season One:
He then did it twice more in Star Trek sketches from 1986 and 1994, before this appearance, where his self-referential joke was super-charming. It was a cool throwback to a piece of SNL history, and that’s pretty neat.
However, it also highlights the fact that since 1976, there hasn’t been an Asian cast member who looks enough like Sulu to play Sulu in a sketch. SNL has certainly had part-Asian cast members before—Fred Armisen is a quarter Japanese and Rob Schneider is a quarter Filipino—but no one who is Asian on both sides of their family tree.
And, as Vanity Fair points out, “[Y]ou can count the number of Asian hosts S.N.L. has had in the past four decades on one hand: Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Aziz Ansari.”
At least they’re, like, aware? In a recent sketch on the 2016 Vice-Presidential debate, it featured the show’s first Latina cast member Melissa Villaseñor playing CBS correspondent and moderator, Elaine Quijano:
In another self-aware moment, Villaseñor broke the fourth wall, saying, “Hello, I’m the new Hispanic cast member, and I’ll be playing Asian moderator Elaine Quijano. Because baby steps.”
That’s really cute and all, but come on. Trotting out the scant minorities the show manages to “dig up” to soften the blow of the lack of representation is not cool. For a show as long-running as SNL, a show that parodies such a wide array of current events and stories from pop culture to not have an entire stable of go-to comic actors from all minorities after over forty years is shocking to me. SNL’s entire job is to have people ready to play a diverse array of real people.
This problem can’t be solved until SNL decides to make this an actual priority. It’s bananas to me that Star Trek managed to have an fully-Asian regular right out of the gate in 1966, but Saturday Night Live STILL hasn’t managed to do so in its entire 40+ year history.
(featured image: screencap/NBC)
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