When Awkwafina hosts the show on Oct. 6 with musical guest Travis Scott, she’ll be the first Asian woman to do so since Lucy Liu hosted way back on Dec. 16, 2000 with musical guest Jay-Z. She was promoting Charlie’s Angels, which is now getting a reboot starring Kristen Stewart who was just 10 years old when Liu hosted. That’s how long ago this was.
On Instagram, Awkwafina wrote that she was “supremely stoked” for her SNL hosting gig and obviously, so are we. But, what this announcement shows is what a long, long, looong time coming it has been. Too long, which shows just how much work SNL needs to do in the diversity department.
Not that this was any secret. Last year, Vanity Fair called out SNL for a Star Trek sketch when Chris Pine hosted. What the sketch revealed was that for over forty years the show has been “outsourcing” the role of Sulu, never having an official cast member of Asian heritage who can play the role. Instead, they’ve continuously cast longtime production designer Akira Yoshimura to play the role, starting with a 1976 sketch starring John Belushi as Captain Kirk.
In its 44 seasons, SNL has not only never had a female Asian cast member, but also has never featured a full-time Asian cast member. Unfortunately, Hollywood has become known for its lack of Asian representation and diversity. Crazy Rich Asians was the first Hollywood movie to feature an Asian-American lead in 24 years, as well as an all-Asian ensemble cast, a stat that deserves repeating. It’s also worth noting a recent study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that only 4.8% of speaking characters featured in the 100 top grossing movies from 2007 to 2017 were Asian or Asian-American.
But, Awkwafina is on the frontlines trying to change that. In an interview with Refinery29, she said that starts by making sure more and better roles are available for Asian and Asian-American actors. Why can’t we have a culture where I have the right to say, ‘This is a stupid Asian stereotype, it’s not written by an Asian person, and it sounds dumb. Why would you do this?’” she said. “People should be scared to do things like that. Actors should be scared to take whitewashed roles.That’s how it should have always been.”
SNL tapping Awkwafina to host the second episode of the season is exciting, but it’s just a small step forward for the show. But for Awkwafina it’s a chance to let SNL know what they’ve been missing.