AP Exclusive: ‘Sesame Street’ Debuts Asian American Muppet | Entertainment News

By TERRY TANG, Related Press

What’s in a reputation? Properly, for Ji-Younger, the most recent muppet resident of “Sesame Road,” her title is an indication she was meant to stay there.

“So, in Korean historically the 2 syllables they every imply one thing totally different and Ji means, like, good or sensible. And Younger means, like, courageous or brave and robust,” Ji-Younger defined throughout a latest interview. “However we had been wanting it up and guess what? Ji additionally means sesame.”

At solely 7 years previous, Ji-Younger is making historical past as the primary Asian American muppet within the “Sesame Road” canon. She is Korean American and has two passions: rocking out on her electrical guitar and skateboarding. The youngsters’s TV program, which first aired 52 years in the past this month, gave The Related Press a primary have a look at its lovable new occupant.

Ji-Younger will formally be launched in “See Us Coming Collectively: A Sesame Road Particular.” Simu Liu, Padma Lakshmi and Naomi Osaka are among the many celebrities showing within the particular, which is able to drop Thanksgiving Day on HBO Max, “Sesame Road” social media platforms and on native PBS stations.

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A few of Ji-Younger’s persona comes from her puppeteer. Kathleen Kim, 41 and Korean American, acquired into puppetry in her 30s. In 2014, she was accepted right into a “Sesame Road” workshop. That developed right into a mentorship and changing into a part of the workforce the next 12 months. Being a puppeteer on a present Kim watched rising up was a dream come true. However serving to form an unique muppet is a complete different feat.

“I really feel like I’ve plenty of weight that perhaps I’m placing on myself to show these classes and to be this consultant that I didn’t have as a child,” Kim mentioned. However fellow puppeteer Leslie Carrara-Rudolph — who performs Abby Cadabby — reminded her, “It’s not about us … It’s about this message.”

Ji-Younger’s existence is the fruits of plenty of discussions after the occasions of 2020 — George Floyd’s demise and anti-Asian hate incidents. Like plenty of corporations, “Sesame Road” mirrored on the way it might “meet the second,” mentioned Kay Wilson Stallings, government vice-president of Artistic and Manufacturing for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit group behind “Sesame Road.”

Sesame Workshop established two activity forces — one to take a look at its content material and one other to take a look at its personal variety. What developed was Coming Collectively, a multi-year initiative addressing tips on how to discuss to youngsters about race, ethnicity and tradition.

One end result was 8-year-old Tamir. Whereas not the present’s first Black muppet, he was one of many first used to speak about topics like racism.

“After we knew we had been going to be doing this work that was going to concentrate on the Asian and Pacific Islanders expertise, we in fact knew we wanted to create an Asian muppet as effectively,” Stallings mentioned.

These newer muppets — their personalities and their seems to be — had been remarkably constructed in a matter of a months. The method usually takes not less than a few years. There are outdoors consultants and a cross-section of staff referred to as the “tradition belief” who weigh in on each side of a brand new muppet, Stallings mentioned.

For Kim, it was essential that Ji-Younger not be “generically pan-Asian.”

“As a result of that’s one thing that every one Asian People have skilled. They type of need to lump us into this monolithic ‘Asian,'” Kim mentioned. “So it was essential that she was particularly Korean American, not similar to, generically Korean, however she was born right here.”

One factor Ji-Younger will assist educate youngsters is tips on how to be a great “upstander.” “Sesame Road” first used the time period on its “The Energy of We” TV particular final 12 months, which featured Tamir.

“Being an upstander means you level out issues which can be flawed or one thing that somebody does or says that’s primarily based on their damaging angle in direction of the individual due to the colour of their pores and skin or the language they communicate or the place they’re from,” Stallings mentioned. “We would like our viewers to know they are often upstanders.”

In “See Us Coming Collectively,” Sesame Road is making ready for Neighbor Day the place everybody shares meals, music or dance from their tradition. Ji-Younger turns into upset after a child, off display screen, tells her “to return residence,” an insult generally flung at Asian People and Pacific Islanders. However she feels empowered after Sesame Road’s different Asian American residents, visitor stars and pals like Elmo guarantee her that she belongs as a lot as anybody else.

The truth that Ji-Younger was created to counter anti-Asian sentiment makes her extra particular to Kim in some methods.

“I bear in mind just like the Atlanta shootings and the way terrifying that was for me,” Kim mentioned. “My one hope, clearly, is to really assist educate what racism is, assist educate youngsters to have the ability to acknowledge it after which communicate out towards it. However then my different hope for Ji-Younger is that she simply normalizes seeing totally different sorts of wanting youngsters on TV.”

Vanessa Leung, co-executive director of Coalition for Asian American Kids and Households, is worked up about Ji-Younger. The group was not concerned in Ji-Younger’s creation however beforehand consulted on anti-racism content material for Sesame Workshop. It issues when Asian American households, particularly with a lot of them being immigrant households, can see themselves mirrored in an establishment like “Sesame Road,” Leung mentioned.

“It sparks curiosity and early understanding of the variety of our group, the wonder within the variety of our group,” Leung mentioned.

Ji-Younger will likely be closely current all through the brand new season, Stallings reassured. She additionally will not simply be utilized for content material associated to racial justice. She’s going to pop up in varied digital packages, live-action and animated.

As the brand new child on the road, Ji-Younger is wanting ahead to displaying her pals and neighbors points of Korean tradition such because the meals. She loves cooking dishes like tteokbokki (chewy rice desserts) along with her halmoni (grandmother). And she or he already has one “Sesame Road” pal who needs a pattern.

“I might like to strive it,” mentioned Ernie, who joined Ji-Younger’s interview. “You understand, I’ve tried bulgogi. I actually like bulgogi. I’m gonna guess that perhaps previous buddy Bert has not tried Korean meals.”

Having already made a number of well-known pals on “Sesame Road,” is there anybody Ji-Younger nonetheless actually needs to satisfy?

“The Linda Lindas as a result of they’re so cool,” Ji-Younger mentioned, referring to the teenage punk rock band. “They usually rock out they usually’re cool ladies and most of them are Asian. They’re my heroes. If we will get the Linda Lindas on ‘Sesame Road,’ I might present them round.”

Terry Tang is a member of The Related Press’ Race and Ethnicity workforce. Observe her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This materials is probably not revealed, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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