Trailer Watch: Marilyn Agrelo Explores Elmo’s Radical Roots in “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street”

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“Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” examines how creators, artists, writers, and educators teamed up to transform a medium and change lives. Directed by Marilyn Agrelo, the HBO documentary revisits the origin story of “Sesame Street,” the brainchild of TV exec Joan Ganz Cooney and Sesame Workshop co-founder Lloyd Morrisett, who sought to use the small screen as a means to educate — and not just entertain — children. “It was as if the world had been waiting for this,” we’re told in a new trailer for the film.

“Sesame Street” was never about peddling mindless entertainment or selling products. The team behind the innovative series always intended to edify and inspire its young viewers. The spot touches on how the creative forces behind the show, including Muppets creator Jim Henson and children’s television writer and director Jon Stone, made that dream a reality, and how particular focus was paid to reaching urban communities, where poverty and racism caused an educational gap. “The diversity of the cast was unheard of,” one interviewee emphasizes.

“It felt like the type of story that would seem to be about one thing on the surface — that is, how this TV show was made — but would actually be about something much deeper and surprising,” Agrelo told us. “In fact, the more and more I read about the origins of ‘Sesame Street,’ the more I was blown away by what a cultural revolution it was. How political it was. How groundbreaking. The fact that this was unleashed on the world in the form of a preschool program was amazing and irresistible to me.”

Asked what she’d like people to think about after seeing the doc, the director said, “The civil rights movement and all the unrest, protests, and awakening that occurred in the late 1960s gave birth to ‘Sesame Street.’ Many of these same fights are being fought today. The story of the birth of ‘Sesame Street’ is incredibly relevant at this moment in time. And art can change our world just as powerfully today,” she emphasized.

“Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” premieres on HBO December 13 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.

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