SNL Alum and ‘Woke’ Star Sasheer Zamata Talks Blackness and Gentrification

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Image: Kim Newmoney.

Since leaving the cast in 2017, Zamata, Sasheer Zamata first came on most of our radar back in 2014, when she became the first Black woman added to the cast of Saturday Night Live seven years after Maya Rudolph departed. Since leaving the cast in 2017, Zamata has been spreading her wings, starring in The Weekend opposite Insecure’s Y’lan Noel and comedian Tone Bell, as well as holding down two series regular roles on ABC’s Home Economics and Hulu’s Woke.

Woke, which premiered in September 2020, is loosely based around Black cartoonist Keith Knight, known for the K Chronicles. The show’s main character is the cartoonist Keef Knight, played by Lamorne Morris, who becomes “woke,” and it follows his life, along with his friends—longtime roommates Clovis, an irreverent sneakerhead, Gunther, who aims to be a white ally, and Ayana, the owner of an independent newspaper that picked up his strip.

Zamata spoke to EBONY about how the show delves in on various forms of representation, plus what we can expect from the new season and more.

EBONY: Why do you like Woke?

Sasheer Zamata: I like this show because I think it does a good job of using humor to talk about social justice issues. Comedy is a great way to get people to break down their defenses and be more open to listening about topics that might be uncomfortable for people to talk about or discussing those things with their community. I like being able to do that with a show like this.

What do you like about playing your character Ayana?

I like her because she is about it. She’s about that life. She is a social activist through and through. But I like seeing her journey in the second season, because in the first season, she’s very sure of herself. She had all the answers. She was kind of guiding everybody with their woke journey. And I feel like in the second season we see her unravel a little bit [as she] starts to analyze her work and the time that has been spent on the cause and asking is that actually serving her livelihood. I think it’s nice to see this character be vulnerable in these ways. 

In this second season, Ayana seems like she’s searching for balance.

Yes, absolutely. Definitely searching for balance. We definitely talked about it towards the end of the season where Black women have kind of been made to feel like we have to do all the work or be representative of everybody in our community or uplift the country; and I think she’s learning that maybe she needs to take a step back and think about more of herself and what she needs as opposed to what the community needs.

Let’s talk about representation. Ayana is a lesbian, part of the LGBTQ+ community.

I think it’s great to see a character like this on screen. It’s also great to see her actually live like this. In the the first episode of the season, we see her dating. She’s out there and I like that we talk about her just like the guys. We just talked about her like that’s what she does, that’s who she is. There’s no weird misunderstanding of who she is as a person. She’s just a person who likes to date. And she also likes to work. I feel like that’s a good representation.

The show also touch on how expensive San Francisco is, which puts Ayana in a tough spot.

Yeah, she is really trying to hold on to her office space because she’s one of the few Black-run businesses in that area, and she wants to represent and hold it down. But it is expensive. Gentrification is real and the people who are moving into this community are changing the aspects of the neighborhood. That’s a very real thing that’s happening in real life as well. It’s just a sad truth where it’s like how much are you going to fight it? Are you going to stay because of your principles? Or are you going to maybe move and try to figure out what’s best for you?

Woke does a good job of showing pro-Blackness without being anti-white.

Absolutely. It’s nice that we have multiple perspectives of Blackness. We have three Black main characters, and all of us are very different. And I love that we all get to voice our opinions in different ways, and also have a white character there to be an ally and voice his opinions too. But it’s definitely not “down with the white man.” It’s funny to see how we navigate our Blackness within our work.

Woke is streaming now on Hulu. 

Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies and editor of Cracking The Wire During Black Lives Matter.

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