Amidst continued criticism over the lack of Black representation in their casting–particularly African-American women–Saturday Night Live continues to chug along with their brand of race-based comedy.
In the parody “12 Days Not A Slave,” Jay Pharoah is a recently emancipated slave named Cecil who can’t seem to understand why he is having such a hard time living his life in the South after being freed. He walks into a bar to meet his friend named Zachary (played by Ed Norton) celebrating his freedom and high-fiving the clientele.
“I’m sorry I’m so late. I had to walk the whole way. I did not realize how hard it is to hail a buggy in this town,” Cecil says, a paint-by-numbers nod to the Black man’s difficulties to catch a cab. Zachary, who is Canadian, is the voice of reason cautioning Cecil to manage his expectations since being freed and that he should consider moving North.
“Just because you’re a free man, doesn’t mean people are going to be happy about it,” he says in a wink to today’s fantasy of a post-racial America in the age of a Black President. ”It’s a mistake to think that racism has ended because slavery has.”
But Cecil is too eager to enjoy the presumed spoils of emancipation, chief among them sleeping with white women.
“I’ve had all of the cha-flavors from chocolate to dark chocolate, but now that I’m a free man…I’m gonna,” he confesses leering at three white women sitting at a table.
With two prominent slavery-based films in the last two years, it is obvious that comedians are going to take their shots at the films. “The Onion” published a spoof review of “12 Years A Slave” that pointed to the fact that too many non-Black critics and viewers the African-American experience depicted on the screen is interchangeable.
“Django Unchained” was parodied across the board, including this mash-up of the film’s trailer with the racially charged comedy western ”Blazing Saddles”:
There have been hits and misses in the slavery parody game but watching sketches like this makes me wonder why it’s so easy to make fun of the plight of African-Americans. With the exception of Azie Mira Dungey’s “Ask A Slave,” whenever American slavery is spoofed the enslaved are clueless or somehow happy about their situation. Cecil can’t wait to sleep with some white women and thinks being told to go in through the back is a VIP entrance. But other topics like The Jewish Holocaust or Japanese internment wouldn’t be used as laugh fodder on network television.
Adding insult to injury, when SNL spoofed “Django Unchained” they took the focus off the Black man and made it about Jesus seeking revenge after his death. A funny concept, but then the only two Black men cast in the sketch were the ones who betrayed Christ, Pontius Pilate (Kenan Thompson) and Judas (Jay Pharoah). We couldn’t even catch a break there.
At its heart, comedy is insensitive because it pokes at sore spots to make the connection ( we do it all the time on this site), so you have to pick your battles, but I wish that for once we could be in on the joke, instead of the butt of it.
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