‘Sesame Street’ Debuts Asian American Muppet Named Ji-Young – The Hollywood Reporter

What’s in a reputation? Properly, for Ji-Younger, the latest muppet resident of Sesame Avenue, 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 powerful,” Ji-Younger defined throughout a latest interview. “However we had been trying 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 Avenue canon. She is Korean American and has two passions: rocking out on her electrical guitar and skateboarding. The kids’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 Avenue 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 Avenue” social media platforms and on native PBS stations.

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

“I really feel like I’ve loads of weight that possibly I’m placing on myself to show these classes and to be this consultant that I didn’t have as a child,” Kim stated. 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 loads of discussions after the occasions of 2020 — George Floyd’s demise and anti-Asian hate incidents. Like loads of corporations, Sesame Avenue mirrored on the way it may “meet the second,” stated Kay Wilson Stallings, govt vip artistic and manufacturing for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit group behind Sesame Avenue.

Sesame Workshop established two job 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 multiyear initiative addressing how you can 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.

“Once we knew we had been going to be doing this work that was going to concentrate on the Asian and Pacific Islanders expertise, we after all knew we wanted to create an Asian muppet as nicely,” Stallings stated.

These newer muppets — their personalities and their seems — had been remarkably constructed in a matter of a months. The method usually takes a minimum of a few years. There are exterior consultants and a cross-section of staff generally known as the “tradition belief” who weigh in on each facet of a brand new muppet, Stallings stated.

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

“As a result of that’s one thing that each one Asian Individuals have skilled. They form of wish to lump us into this monolithic ‘Asian,’” Kim stated. “So it was essential that she was particularly Korean American, not identical to, generically Korean, however she was born right here.”

One factor Ji-Younger will assist train youngsters is how you can be a great “upstander.” Sesame Avenue 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 might be flawed or one thing that somebody does or says that’s based mostly on their adverse angle in the direction of the individual due to the colour of their pores and skin or the language they converse or the place they’re from,” Stallings stated. “We wish our viewers to grasp they are often upstanders.”

In “See Us Coming Collectively,” Sesame Avenue is getting 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 Individuals and Pacific Islanders. However she feels empowered after Sesame Avenue’s different Asian American residents, visitor stars and mates 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 keep in mind just like the Atlanta shootings and the way terrifying that was for me,” Kim stated. “My one hope, clearly, is to really assist train what racism is, assist train children to have the ability to acknowledge it after which converse out towards it. However then my different hope for Ji-Younger is that she simply normalizes seeing totally different sorts of trying children 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 lots of them being immigrant households, can see themselves mirrored in an establishment like Sesame Avenue, Leung stated.

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

Ji-Younger can be closely current all through the brand new season, Stallings reassured. She additionally received’t simply be utilized for content material associated to racial justice. She is going to pop up in varied digital applications, live-action and animated.

As the brand new child on the road, Ji-Younger is trying ahead to exhibiting her mates and neighbors facets of Korean tradition such because the meals. She loves cooking dishes like tteokbokki (chewy rice muffins) along with her halmoni (grandmother). And he or she already has one “Sesame Avenue” pal who desires a pattern.

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

Having already made a number of well-known mates on Sesame Avenue, is there anybody Ji-Younger nonetheless actually desires to satisfy?

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

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