Leading lady of hit show “Empire” makes SNL debut


Teraji P. Henson with cast of ‘SNL’

Traci Ann Thomas

The Queen of ‘Empire Records’ took a South Central spin on Game of Thrones, along with other characters on the April 11th taping of Saturday Night Live. The Academy nominated actress capitalized on her breakout role on the Fox hit show “Empire”, bringing a level of attitude and volume that only Henson could bring. From doing her best Nicki Minaj impression for a parody of the sequel to Dreamworks ‘ “ Home”, to out-twerking her daughter (played by Shasheer Zamata) for YouTube views, it was very clear that Henson chose sketches that reminded the audience of the kind of energy she brings to the role that made her a TV star. She even visited Cookie Monster and the residents of Sesame Street in her now-infamous character, Cookie Lyon, taking over the show in an “Empire”-esque fashion. The program also included performances from Mumford and Sons, playing songs from their new album, “Wilder Mind”.

Henson’s appearance marks another one of the few African-American female hosts that Saturday Night Live has seen in the last several years. “Scandal” actress, Kerry Washington hosted the show last season; amidst a period when the show was receiving heavy backlash on the lack of black female cast members. SNL took advantage of their hostess and the media buzz they were circulating in the opening sketch, by using her to play several different black female characters; a sketch that was applauded for its satire, but increased the backlash.  After Washington’s appearance, the studio immediately called for auditions and resulted in Zamata’s employment; and Leslie Jones shortly after. Like several other alumni, Jones started off as a writer for the show. Making guest appearances from time to time, specifically her 2013 stint on the Weekend Update segment (which received acclaim and controversy), the SNL studio decided to make Jones a repertory player.

It took a whole year for the show to find another POC hostess to fit the bill again; and Henson did not disappoint. It is becoming clear that the show tries to wait for breakout black female stars to ask them to host. They even try to make their own; Jones has already been cast in the all-female Ghosbusters movie, along with fellow castmate Kate McKinnon. With this kind of turnover in diversity, hopefully the writers can develop more fresh, funny characters and sketches that highlight every SNL cast member.