Sesame Street made history Friday when it unveiled its new Asian American cast members. Nicole Avant will play May Wu, a Mandarin-speaking young mom from Hong Kong who struggles with the spread of anti-Chinese sentiments in America.
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“If there’s anything I’ve learned in this casting process, it’s that you have to put aside your politics, past, present and future and just focus on what you want the character to be and how you want that character to express itself,” executive producer Mark Saltzman said in a statement. “We are so grateful that Nicole connected with May’s story, and we’re certain she will bring a richness and wisdom to the role that will be invaluable to our show.”
The new Asian American cast members – including Renee Elise Goldsberry, May’s Asian American wife/business partner, a Red Indian named Billy Jean and the cross-dresser Miss Ida – come in the wake of President Donald Trump’s policies targeting Asians. According to a recent CBS report, he’s signed orders to ban H1-B visas, cut the budget for international students on government-sponsored exchange programs, and, most notably, slashed federal funding for the Central American Temporary Protected Status program.
“For me, it’s a moment of joy,” Nicole’s father Mr Avant, a Taiwanese man played by The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford, said in a trailer for the new season.
The Sesame Street cast in old school Sesame color range, before they switched to child actors. The Sesame Street cast in old school Sesame color range, before they switched to child actors.
May’s mother, played by Yi-shin Lee, also reacted with relief, telling her daughter, “Hooray, Sesame Street does it again!”
Over the course of its 41-year history, Sesame Street has starred South Asian children, played by Saroja Parmar and Aparna Nancherla. However, their stories focused on the struggles of Indian immigrant parents, not their children.
May Wu joins the Sesame Street cast. Photograph: Sesame Workshop
Yet all of May’s aunts and uncles in America are parents who grew up in the 1960s, when acts such as the B-52s and The Minstrel Show were prominent cultural institutions in the US. After taking a job in an Applebee’s, May “jumps into an online hate campaign against China”, the AP reports. Her daughter Sesame Street starts to aid her in a way that her family had hoped.
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“I remember living in a place that was fearful of a strong, independent woman, and I always felt like I wasn’t a good enough mother just because I didn’t have my own independent career,” May’s mother explains. “I’m glad to be the mother that she is, but I always found myself saying I have two jobs.”
Sesame Street may seem like a place that only a white, middle-class family would feel comfortable with, but its viewers, 67% of whom are Latino, are also voting blocs that tend to lean Democratic, according to the New York Times.
The 12 new cast members will join a cast of 300 who are already thriving in modern-day urban environments, thanks to Sesame Workshop’s careful casting and oversight. The show’s team knows that each development and casting decision is carefully weighed to reflect the diversity of today’s era.
The Sesame Street cast’s diversity can be seen in how each character walks, speaking with diversity and verve. In the trailer, Judy wonders aloud, “Is this what a real relationship looks like?” Later on, she pushes Anthony to “breathe in and push out.” Ms Proctor rushes around, with her hands planted firmly in her pockets, her face a mask of tranquility. She makes every adult around her look like toddlers.
While faces are ever-changing on the show, voices remain static. Ahead of each new season, the show conducts auditions around the country, and if casting judges spot a talent they deem particularly talented, they commission a professional cast member or signing who will then match their performance perfectly. Their characters come with expectations on what they should do and how they should act. While Sesame Street