Why Empire Star Taraji P. Henson's SNL Hosting is Important

March 27th 2015

Laura Donovan

Empire actress Taraji P. Henson will be hosting Saturday Night Live on April 11.

Henson will be only the tenth Black female to host the comedy show over its 40-year run. Who preceded her? Kerry Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Janet Jackson, Maya Rudolph, Cicely Tyson, Gabourey Sidibe, and Rosario Dawson, none of whom hosted in the 90s. Seventeen years elapsed between Oprah's 1986 show and Berry's in 2003. 

Fusion created a graph to show that nearly 60 percent of SNL hosts have been white men:

SNL hosts

h/t Fusion

Altogether, SNL has had 311 white male hosts, 154 white female hosts, 41 Black male hosts, and 9 Black female hosts (until Henson takes on the task in April).

SNL castmember Kenan Thompson, who said last year that he had plans to leave SNL, sparked criticism after he chalked up the lack of black female comedians on the show to a lack of talent, "It's just a tough part of the business. Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready." 

Though castmember Jay Pharaoh didn't outright condemn SNL for its diversity problem, he did acknowledge in an interview with TheGrio that producers should address it, "They need to pay attention...It’s one of those things that’s hard. Some people choke up. Some people burn their bridges by saying things they shouldn’t say either. You just have to be very political about your delivery, what you say, and your performance. You’ve got to be on point. Everybody has to like you and want you to win. If they don’t like you, it’s a wrap."

At the time, SNL only had three ethnically diverse cast members: Thompson, Pharaoh, and the Iranian Nasim Pedrad, who has since parted ways with the series to be in Mulaney, among other projects. Since SNL's 1975 premiere, only four black women have been cast members: Yvonne Hudson, Maya Rudolph, Danitra Vance, and Ellen Cleghorne.