Sesame Street is set to introduce the first Asian American character into the cult children’s television series in more than a decade.
The cast of Big Bird, Ernie, Bert and Oscar, who have starred in the programme since it debuted in 1969, are expected to make their final appearance on the show next month before being replaced with new cast members.
The new Muppet will star alongside a series of other children’s characters in the sixth Sesame Street season, which starts in October, according to Variety.
Hang on a minute … where’s Big Bird? Read more
Eagle-eyed viewers may notice a new purple furry blue bird with a bird’s nest-shaped beak. It is not the first time the show has introduced a new character without saying its name – for example, The Cookie Monster in 2006 became The Monster at the End of this Book.
The move comes after years of criticism of the show, and especially its use of white characters to represent its Asian, Latino and black characters.
After the show’s creator, Joan Ganz Cooney, passed away in 2009, the company paid tribute to her work in a statement, which said that she had “dreamed big and never let go”. “Sesame Street has been, and remains, guided by Joan’s values: inclusion, diversity, respect and empowerment.”
The BBC TV critic Giles Hattersley was one of the first to notice the new character. “Just seen new episode of Sesame Street,” he tweeted. “First time for the show to introduce a non-white Muppet for over a decade … which means two things. 1) Standard racial undertones; 2) Jokey (ba-dum-bah-tra) racial subtext.”
Watch the best clips from Sesame Street.
Tina Ghazzani, a communications professor at the University of Toronto, told the Guardian she was happy with the new character but said she was “angry that it has taken Sesame Street so long to acknowledge that all characters in its own household represent people from different backgrounds”.
The show also has Asian and Asian American characters including Ming and Sayaka from Taiwan, Cookie Monster and Cookie Snatcher from India and Sammi the Asian-Mexican chicken from Southern California.
The pressure on the programme to include more ethnic diversity appears to have grown after the underrepresentation of minorities in the Academy Award-winning 2018 film, Green Book.
Oscar-winning director Peter Farrelly paid tribute to him in an interview last year. “Just looking at the movie Green Book, and seeing and hearing of the pressure on [those] guys to do the colour-blind thing – they’re in a boat that’s carrying two, three actors of colour behind them. That was an untenable situation to do black-white,” he said.