Last summer, as protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement spread across the nation, parents who wanted to talk to their young children about racism had support from “Sesame Street.”
“Not all streets are like Sesame Street,” Elmo’s dad, Louie, said in a special episode of the long-running children’s television series that was produced in conjunction with CNN. “Across the country, people of color, especially in the Black community, are being treated unfairly because of how they look, their culture, race, and who they are. What we are seeing is people saying, ‘Enough is enough.’”
The special was widely praised for its progressive message, one that stayed true to the show’s original vision as developed by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett in the late 1960s. Those origins are explored in the new film “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” which debuts at the Sundance Film Festival.
“For me, the biggest surprise was how political ‘Sesame Street’ was,” filmmaker Marilyn Agrelo tells Gold Derby. “It really had a purpose that was related to changing society — it really wanted to make the world a better place for kids. By showing the interracial aspect of it, by doing positive things about women, by writing Muppet sketches that were hilarious and sophisticated and the comedy was fantastic. But it also always had a little moral tale. Everything had a purpose, everything had an educational purpose. It came from such an adult place. It came from a desire to change the world and it came at a time when our society was in such flux with the war protests and the civil rights movement and ‘Sesame Street’ was a product of that.”
Based on the book of the same name by Michael Davis, “Street Gang” dives into the creation of “Sesame Street” using archival footage and new interviews with key players to help contextualize and explain how the show became one of the most important cultural institutions for kids in television history.
“It was about representation, it was about answering a social injustice, which was that children of color did not have equal access to education,” producer Ellen Scherer Crafts explains. “It was always a dual-platform show around its intent to shape children and the world into a place that we needed it to be.”
Screen Media will release “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” in theaters and into the home entertainment market this spring. The HBO Documentary Film will have its television debut on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max later in the year.
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