Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street
by director Marilyn Agrelo
I’m not part of the masses that grew up watching “Sesame Street.” I don’t have nostalgic memories of it from childhood. As an adult, of course I was aware of the show—how could I not be? It is and has been a much-beloved presence in our culture for generations. A national treasure, for sure. What I didn’t realize is that “Sesame Street” came into existence as a true revolutionary force.
Art is the great equalizer. This is something the idealistic creatives who brought us “Sesame Street” recognized from the start.
From gritty 1969 New York, Joan Ganz Cooney’s group of artists and educators interpreted the radically changing world around them with audacity, using puppets, animation, film, music, and humor to educate and entertain on a whole new level. Their specific goal was to reach disadvantaged children, and present them an inclusive and welcoming world. This goal was met in spectacular fashion, and swept up all children along the way.
My first documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom, showed us inner city kids learning acceptance and respect through the process of mastering and competing in ballroom dance. Both Mad Hot and Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street explore the truth that art in all its forms can be a force for social change in the world, and that profound transformation occurs when young people are exposed to the arts.
I’ve been thinking about the turmoil of this past year, and about kids seeing activists create street art with the graphic yellow words BLACK LIVES MATTER in our nation’s capital. We are now in a similar moment of civil awakening to when “Sesame Street” burst on the scene in the late ‘60s and inspired so many people. It seems the perfect time to tell the story of its origins. I feel incredibly fortunate to be doing so.
Posted April 19, 2021