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Film and TV representation is the prize as Saturday Night Live plays "Can I Play That?"

Idris Elba, Cecily Strong, Beck Bennett
Screenshot: Saturday Night Live

On last night’s Idris Elba-hosted Saturday Night Live, the first sketch after Elba’s monologue was a game show, which might not exactly suggest the episode was reaching for new comic territory. (Just a thought, try a season with no game show, talk show, or reality show parodies. See what pops up.) Anyway, Elba joined Cecily Strong, Beck Bennett, and show host Kenan Thompson for what was labeled “actors’ least favorite game,” “Can I Play That?,” a slyly funny take on the ongoing and long-overdue debate about representation in casting.

The rules were deceptively tricky, especially since Thompson’s host reminded everyone that the game was sponsored by Twitter, whose motto he revealed as, “One mistake, and we’ll kill you.” Everyone was greeted with the same question—“Can I play that?”—in response to various hypothetical casting scenarios, while the three actor contestants gauged just how likely the Twitterverse was to destroy their careers if they answered wrong. Questions ranged from the straightforward (no, we’re done with white ladies teaching minority kids about rap), to the fiendishly complex (nobody can play Caitlin Jenner), to the seemingly innocent. (Bennett correctly guesses that his white male can’t play an astronaut, sensing the trap that the character is secretly Mexican.) Naturally, only Rami Malek can play anyone.


And if the sketch skirts close to the cop-out centrist “don’t you think this darned political correctness is going too far?” position in Elba’s bewilderment at all the new rules, the sketch does dig into just what stereotypes Hollywood still hasn’t untangled yet. Woman POTUS? Only in a comedy. Elba’s thespian gets dinged for wanting to play a blind person, but Thompson’s host accepts Strong’s answer that any Asian person can play Japanese. And the upcoming Lion King? Well, the African lions are voiced by black people, but John Oliver’s Zazu is in there . . . because of colonialism? Maybe? They’re still working this whole issue out.

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.