HOT DOCS FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Writer/director Marilyn Agrelo’s HBO Documentaries film Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is a two-hour documentary packed with everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the beloved television show. The success of Sesame Street centered around three people: Jim Henson (no surprise), John Stone, and Joan Cooney. Cooney would become the first female television executive and one of the powerful amongst her male peers.
The premise behind the show was simple. The audience was children from New York’s inner cities, and the goal was to help them read and learn arithmetic to give them an edge before entering elementary school for the first time. Episodes were written by a large committee of entertainment writers and educators, and they somehow all got along. Humor played a significant role in the show, and one of the writers created a character about a Count who could count. Funny idea, but “how will children learn” from the Count? Within this joke was built the concept of enumeration.
“…everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the beloved television show.”
The original Gordon (Matt Robinson) was a black community activist. He insisted that a “black” puppet be created. When he premiered, the character received a considerable backlash from Black parents in the way the Muppet acted and spoke. The criticism led to the activist Robinson’s resignation in frustration. I am glad that the filmmaker dug deep and found a dark side to Sesame Street. It helps paint a realistic picture of the highs and lows of creating the show.
With Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, Agrelo does an excellent job at highlighting one of the crucial elements to the show’s success: lack of ego. Sesame Street is probably the only national show in television history where ego was put aside by almost everyone for the sole purpose of teaching children. I got the sense that everyone involved would have done it for free if they had to do it. The director captures that intangible magic of the still ongoing series and the stories told by the interviewees are engaging.
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is everything you need to know about the show that changed education and entertainment in the world. For those nostalgic about Henson and his company, you’ll be happy to know that there is some behind-the-scenes footage of puppets being operated. And for those hoping for a real understanding of the impact of Sesame Street well, the documentary addresses that as well. It literally has something for everyone to enjoy.
"…captures that intangible magic of the still ongoing series..."