In early 2019, the kids program Sesame Street will welcome its first Korean-American Muppet.
The muppet, named Ji-Young, is playing a 14-year-old Korean student and will be seen interacting with the rest of the Muppets in production. The character will make her debut in the season premiere episode, which begins airing sometime after January 2019.
The change in casting comes after a year of buzz that the characters of the popular children’s program were not representative of the diversity in modern-day South Korea. While Sesame Street has welcomed Asian characters in the past, including Ugandan and East Indian Muppets, the puppets’ makeup is mostly white with no experience Asian cultures.
Organizations like the K-12 school program Asian American Studies expressed frustration with the lack of multicultural Muppets on the show — and came out in support of an unofficial petition to change the series. The petition titled “Sesame Street: Love and Diversity. Act Now!” currently has close to 20,000 signatures.
The casting of the new muppet may be seen as a welcome change, but it has also prompted backlash.
In a press release, Sesame Workshop also announced that Sesame Street would be adopting more Asian-American characters to the show later in the season. In a letter to a representative for a constituent of Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, the Sesame Workshop’s Public Affairs Coordinator Alex Snook clarified that the show’s Muppets will now be “more reflective of the diversity of [the] global South Korean people” — so, “notably, Sesame Street will be telling the stories of a number of characters of color in this season.” The Sesame Workshop declined to provide additional details on who those characters would be.
Sesame Workshop also produced a video featuring Ines Asensio, founder of the Asian Media Matters advocacy group, who encouraged viewers to look for the show’s upcoming Asian-American characters. Asensio, whose father is Filipino, was critical of Sesame Workshop’s lack of diversity for the show’s Muppets, calling it “short-sighted, [and] discriminatory.” She said her group would be monitoring the casting and news of the new character to ensure that she was portrayed accurately and as an intelligent and authentic South Korean student.
Read the full story at The Guardian.
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