Columns, Opinion

TENTINDO: SNL’s Villaseñor reminds that open conversation combats outdated beliefs

“Saturday Night Live” premieres its 42nd season on Oct. 1 with three new cast members, among them the legendary show’s first Latina player, Melissa Villaseñor.

Villaseñor recently came under fire for past offensive tweets, which many labeled as racist.

Villaseñor is a groundbreaking woman by landing the comedy job at “Saturday Night Live.” Without a doubt, the entertainment world needs more visible women of color and “Saturday Night Live” is a prominent television show — even more so during an election year.

Villaseñor further complicated her Twitter controversy because it appears as if she predicted it. Villaseñor reportedly made her Twitter account private and deleted about 2,000 tweets before the show’s casting announcement. After the announcement, Villaseñor allowed the public access to her Twitter account once again, but some noticed the substantial differences.

Of the deleted tweets, Villaseñor allegedly tweeted things like, “A bossy black lady at my temp job right now looks exactly like steve erkel [sic]. Ugly.” The deleted tweets were discovered by many prominent users, including April Reign, founder of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. Villaseñor has yet to comment on the controversy.

This presents an interesting conflict of morality that is not unique. When Trevor Noah was promoted to the host of “The Daily Show” he became one of few black men to ever host a late-night show. After his promotion, he was discovered to have sent offensive tweets that many deemed anti-Semitic and sexist.

In an industry in which women of color are particularly underrepresented, a voice on a well-known platform can be impactful and inspiring for many others who have been previously denied by comedy because of the lack of representation. At the same time, Villaseñor’s alleged tweets are obviously problematic and offensive.

It is harder to demand action when the people who have been offensive are advancing representation. However, even when hateful messages come from white people in the public eye, does much happen?

Paula Deen notoriously used racial slurs and made repeated racist statements, but after a public chastising and a forced apology, what really happens? Her career continues and her celebrity grows, though maybe at a stunted rate. Celebrities continue to make anti-gay, sexist, racism and anti-Semitic statements yearly and face very little in actual in punishment beyond temporary public scrutiny. Perhaps it is an inability for the general public to hold a grudge and accept apologies, but it could also be that hateful statements are not enough to eliminate a famous white individual’s career.  

Noah and Villaseñor are both people of color in an industry that has a history of dismissal of colored voices, but both were publicly chastised for their actions. Should they know better? Yes, of course, but people cannot pretend that Villaseñor and Noah continuing to have a career is a double standard. There is no standard.

Apologies do not always come, but the public nevertheless moves on from one controversy to another. Offensive tweets are dug up on politicians, musicians, actors and comedians with increasing frequency, and apologies should be demanded and actions taken to rectify the situation. Yet, more frequently than not, a public relations team issues a statement and the controversial person lays low for a while, waiting for the next tweets to be uncovered.

The entertainment industry has problems with representation of women and minorities. These problems only continue because oftentimes people caught in controversy are not expected of much beyond a statement.

What further complicates this issues is that everyone’s past is on display for years, and removal of this past is virtually impossible. It is more saddening when a groundbreaking voice is revealed to have a problematic past, but little is expected from people even when they are discovered to currently hold hateful beliefs.

People need to address controversies with celebrities, especially if these controversies have gone without an apology. Having an open and highly visible discussion is the best way to combat the next generation’s exposure to outdated beliefs, which will lead to more representation and less statements that require an apology.

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