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Did 'SNL' Go Beyond the Pale With Fauxbama?
Clearly, we're in racial Rorschach territory again: Where you stand might be a reflection of where you came from.
Michaels said that the show auditioned "four to five" actors for the Obama role, including Thompson. And the winner, he says, was based on merit. "When it came down to it, I went with the person with the cleanest comedy 'take' on" Obama, Michaels said.
Michaels said he liked how Armisen caught the tilt of Obama's head, the rhythm of his speaking style, "the essence" of his look. "It's not about race," Michaels insisted via phone. "It's about getting a take on Obama, where it serves the comedy and the writing. . . . Believe me, when we read 40 or 50 pieces [for the show] on Wednesday, no one says, 'This is a very good way of getting our political points across.' We're simply asking ourselves: Is it fresh? Is it funny? Fred just had best take on Obama."
Criticism aside, Armisen will continue as Obama through the rest of the campaign, Michaels said.
The Obama campaign yesterday declined to comment on the show or on Armisen's portrayal. Obama appeared on "SNL" in October.
But clearly the incident has raised eyebrows.
Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California, says viewers might have a different reaction if the roles were reversed. What if, he says, "SNL" had cast a black woman to portray Hillary Clinton? "Do you think there's ever going to be a day when we start casting Queen Latifah to portray Princess Diana?" he asks. "We just don't have the same representations going in other direction.
"If we had as many examples of black actors playing white figures, no one would need to discuss it. But when you have a figure as historically important as Barack Obama . . . people can get mighty protective of his image."
Michaels urges that viewers be patient. "What happens with our political characters is that they start out as impressions and they end up as characters," he said, citing Dana Carvey portraying George H.W. Bush, Hammond as Bill Clinton and Dan Aykroyd as Jimmy Carter, among others. "It will evolve."