'Sesame Street' Afghan Spin-Off's Puppet Deals With Feminism and Racism — And Trolls

'Sesame Street' Afghan Spin-Off's Puppet Deals With Feminism and Racism — And Trolls
Source: AP
Source: AP

Baghch-E-Simsim, the Afghan spin-off of the classic American children's show Sesame Street, on Thursday introduced its newest character: Zari, a 6-year-old hijab-wearing Afghan girl whose segments will focus on female empowerment and well-being.

True to Sesame Street's legacy of diversity and multiculturalism, Zari will also address national identity and culture. A sample segment from Sesame Workshop's press release included Zari teaching viewers the meaning of the greeting "As-salaam alaikum," ("Peace to you.") and showing fellow characters how to use it when they're happy to see each other.

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While to many Zari was a welcome addition to Sesame Street's global family, some insisted that feminism and Islam "don't mix" and railed against the idea of a Muslim character.

Then there were these shiny two cents:

One Guardian writer tackled the public's reaction to Zari, particularly one user who expressed surprise that a gay Muppet couple did not exist. "I didn't have the heart to tell him about Bert and Ernie," said the Guardian writer. 

For years, Sesame Workshop has been diversifying its cast of characters to aptly represent different audiences. In 2002 South Africa's Sesame Street spin-off introduced Kami, a 5-year-old HIV-positive character, and in October the U.S. version showcased Julia, a character with autism, in an online storybook. 

(To be sure, the world has not yet gotten its first gay Muppet. In 2011, Sesame Workshop addressed the big "are they/aren't they" question, saying Bert and Ernie "remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.")

In the press release, Sesame Workshop's executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy Sherrie Westin expressed why a character like Zari is important to the brand.

"Debuting a confident, inquisitive and sweet Afghan girl character is a perfect opportunity to engage both boys and girls with lessons supporting girls' empowerment and diversity appreciation," Westin said, "as we aim to help all children in Afghanistan grow smarter, stronger and kinder."