“The show was saying very profound things about social justice but wrapped up in an entertaining package”: Marilyn Agrelo on Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is the fascinating new documentary from Marilyn Agrelo based on the NY Times bestseller Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis taking a peek behind the scenes of one of the most iconic and long-lasting kids TV shows of all time.
What is highlighted in documenting the first origins of the show is just how groundbreaking it was in its time, and in some ways, remains today. It reveals that its original premise back in 1969 was to provide television with a social purpose, aimed at inner-city kids who were often exposed to TV for long hours each day but only were mainly shown endless ads in the form of cartoons rather than anything constructive.
Through never-seen-before footage and more than 20 original interviews from Joan Ganz Cooney, Jim Henson (creator of The Muppets), Caroll Spinney, Frank Oz, and more, it also reveals the wonderful team that worked together solidly to create each programme, from controlling and voicing the Muppet puppets to choreographing original music to writing the irreverent jokes and material with an educational bent that had adults and kids hooked alike.
There are many hilarious and heartwarming moments, such as the banter between takes while shooting Burt and Ernie scenes, the incredible array of musicians who featured – including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and James Taylor – and the creators’ dedication to diversity and integration, even in the face of racist responses from some television networks.
The Upcoming had a wonderful conversation with Agrelo about why she was motivated to make the film, the process of finding and piecing together a vast amount of footage and interviews, and the themes that arise from the documentary, such as equality and representation on screen and the importance of reaching across social divides to give all kids a chance at education. She said: “It’s really about this little band of performers and artists and writers and musicians and educators who were really a group of activists and set out to do something that was going to change the face of television”. Watch the rest of the interview below.
Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street is released digitally on demand on 31st January 2022.
Watch the trailer for Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street here: