Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, has responded to a viral video that appears to depict an incident of racial bias that occurred at Sesame Place Philadelphia over the weekend.
On Sunday morning, digital strategist Leslie Mac posted a video to Twitter from her great-niece’s 4th birthday celebration over the weekend. In the nine-second clip, two little girls from the party, both Black, stand on the sidelines of the parade of characters and extend their arms toward a performer dressed in a Rosita costume. Rosita high-fives other park visitors before waving off the two girls, wagging her head as she turns away from them.
“This is how #SesamePlace treated these beautiful Black children,” Mac captioned the video, which has generated 7.3 million views as of press time. As the video went viral on Monday, other people began sharing similar videos of Sesame Place characters appearing to ignore Black children while interacting with others.
The incident caught the attention of multiple Hollywood figures. “Those gorgeous girls will never forget that feeling!” Kelly Rowland wrote in a reply on Sesame Place’s Instagram account, while Audra McDonald tweeted, “This is absolutely disgusting.”
“Every Black woman was once a little Black girl who made this face when the way things are for us in America first broke her heart,” tweeted Yvette Nicole Brown, while Wendell Pierce shared that the disillusionment can happen to boys, too: “Watching [this moment] reminds me of my own. 4 years old on Mardi Gras Day being denied the joy I see other kids having and the realization the horrible reality [sic].”
Sesame Place posted an initial response to its Instagram account on Sunday evening, explaining that the costumes sometimes inhibit performers’ sightlines, and that the employee portraying Rosita’s “no” gesture was a general response declining requests to hold children for photos, which is against park policy. “We spoke to the family and extended our apologies and invited them back for a special meet-and-greet opportunity with our characters,” the statement said.
But Mac said that hasn’t happened. “This statement is the first & only time the family heard about this offer & Sesame Place has cut off email communications,” she tweeted. “The entire statement is a lie.”
Late Monday afternoon, Sesame Workshop — which was careful to note that Sesame Place is a licensed partner — weighed in. “What these children experienced is unacceptable,” read its statement on social media. “We have been in contact with Sesame Place, our licensed park partner, and they have assured us that they will conduct bias training and a thorough review of the ways in which they engage with families and guests.”
Minutes after the nonprofit posted its statement, Sesame Place Philadelphia followed up with a new, pinned tweet: “We sincerely apologize to the family for their experience in our park on Saturday; we know that it’s not ok. We will conduct training for our employees so they better understand, recognize and deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience to our guests.”
July 19, 2:09 p.m. Corrected Mac’s relationship to the birthday girl and identity of the party attendees in the video.