Story highlights Sesame Street welcomes its first-ever Asian American character when the wheelchair-bound Emma (pictured) arrives in the TV show this fall.
In a move that seems more than likely to create fans (and perhaps even controversy), the show’s newest and most young actor is of Asian descent.
America’s favorite children’s TV series has always relied on improvisation and the creative abilities of its studio team, and it didn’t take long for Emma (pictured) to be declared by some as a welcome addition for the show. In a series of tweets, cast member Stephanie Linchak shared that Emma will appear on the popular show in the fall, alongside another familiar face: Big Bird.
Emma is a wheelchair-bound preschooler who will come on to help big bird learn to brush his teeth, eat his food and get dressed in the mornings.
Boon is a “hapless old bird who relies on random people to share his only instrument with him: a broken mirror.”
“We’re trying to make modern-day muppets with contemporary families,” Linchak wrote.
But Linchak’s announcement is not the first time an Asian child has made the grade. In 2013, Big Bird’s owner, Oscar the Grouch, made headlines for adopting a 3-year-old Asian kid during a BBC documentary series on Sesame Street.
Actor Christopher Birch of South Korea went on to serve as a substitute-cast member during the fall 2016 season. Some critics have accused the show of spreading stereotypes, but both Oleman Mancini, co-president of the Sesame Workshop (the creative arm of the show, in 2017), and Jeffrey Dunn, a writer and co-executive producer on the show, point out that Big Bird’s story isn’t about race or ethnicity. In fact, Big Bird was born in New York City to Chinese parents. But Big Bird’s story does show Big Bird receiving financial assistance from Oscar’s parents — not exactly a stereotypical story.
Ultimately, Big Bird is merely the everyday human whose success depends on what he needs from the people around him. Though Emma should help teach Big Bird the rules of social climbing, Mancini and Dunn insist that Sesame Street’s biggest champions are the children themselves, whose friendship with Big Bird proves true friendship comes in all shapes and sizes. “We’re not part of a storyline,” says Dunn, “we just try to make people connect with the people that represent them on the show, whether they’re puppets or not.”
Have a favorite Muppet from your childhood? We know you do — which makes the latest addition to “Sesame Street” so meaningful. And although some may wonder why the show didn’t include Emma sooner — or why it didn’t debut alongside Oscar the Grouch and the ditzy Elmo, as the BBC first suggested in its documentary series — we imagine TV fans will soon realize that their favorite were no strangers when it came to friend-making.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated.