Theme parks are meant to be fun for the whole family, but one family that recently visited Sesame Place, the Sesame Street-themed park in Philadelphia, is crying foul after what appears to be potential racial discrimination on the part of a costumed character. The issue is now being addressed by Sesame Workshop, the company behind the Sesame Street television show, even though they are not directly responsible for the theme park.
The issue started a couple days ago when a video went viral on Instagram showing two Black girls trying to get a hug, or even simply acknowledgement, from Sesame Street's Rosita during a parade. The issue was that the person in the costume didn’t simply miss them, but seems actively tell them no and walk away.
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While not seen in the video, the accompanying post claims that after denying the two kids we see, the person in costume went on to give a hug to a white child next to them. It would be one thing if the employee in costume simply missed these kids, there are always going to be a lot of kids and it can be difficult to give them all attention, but it certainly looks like they are seen, and are being intentionally denied.
If this were an isolated incident, that might be one thing, but since the initial video went viral, others have come to light. In each case we see costumed characters ignoring children looking for attention, and in each case the children are Black. In one case a costumed character literally knocks down a Black child. Following the online outrage, Sesame Workshop, the parent company that owns Sesame Street, has now released a statement promising the theme park employees will be undergoing bias training.
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As noted in the statement, Sesame Place is a licensed theme park. The location in Philadelphia, where the inciting incident took place, as well as a second new location in San Diego, are owned and operated by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Still, the connection with Sesame Street certainly is going to make Sesame Workshop take notice as this will reflect badly on them as well.
The Sesame Street company has never been shy about taking action when it feels the Sesame Street name is being tarnished. We’ve seen Sesame Workshop sue filmmakers when they felt the puppets resembled their own too much. The company has also taken action against unlicensed Big Bird merchandise. One can assume Sesame Workshop has now had a serious talk with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment about what happened here. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the relationship between the two long term.
Sesame Place has released its own statement, two in fact, on the incident. According to the first, which attempted to explain the situation, the Rosita character was not telling these children “no,” but was actually responding to another guest, who wanted the character to hold their child so they could get a picture. The family that experienced this was offered a special meet-and-greet opportunity as part of an apology. The second statement is a more straightforward apology which also included the statement that training is forthcoming.
Sesame Street has an unparalleled reputation when it comes to television programming for children and the show has always been at the forefront of diversity and inclusion, certainly any theme park that agrees to take on that name needs to do the same. Whatever the issue here is, hopefully it will be dealt with quickly.
While most theme parks have attractions designed for their smallest guests, Sesame Place is unique in that it is a park specifically designed for those guests. Sesame Place is also a certified autism center, the first theme park to hold that designation, and it’s all the more reason that the employees in the parks need to take extra care when interacting directly with kids inside the parks.
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CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian, Dirk began writing for CinemaBlend as a freelancer in 2015 before joining the site full-time in 2018. He has previously held positions as a Staff Writer and Games Editor, but has more recently transformed his true passion into his job as the head of the site's Theme Park section. He has previously done freelance work for various gaming and technology sites. Prior to starting his second career as a writer he worked for 12 years in sales for various companies within the consumer electronics industry. He has a degree in political science from the University of California, Davis. Is an armchair Imagineer, Epcot Stan, Future Club 33 Member.