Blog: Puppetry and Diversity

I had an interaction with a new client recently that was somewhat eye opening. They contacted me asking for a build with some specific colours, and sent along a picture of the Trans flag as an example but didn’t actually *say* “like the Trans flag”. I thought they were perhaps seeing how I’d react, so in my response I casually talked about the rainbow fur Greeblee I built for Pride and donated the proceeds to The Trevor Project, just to let them know it’s all fine and they could speak freely. Their relief was obvious. They told me that they had talked to other builders but when it came down to explaining what the colours actually were, they got a sense that things suddenly turned cold and uncomfortable. I reassured them that although I’m a CISHET guy myself, I try to be a good ally and they should feel totally at ease.

Rainbow Greeblee

It’s sad we even had to have that conversation in 2022. While we as a society have made some steps in the right direction, there’s still a long road ahead. This really drove that home.

Like every other aspect of society, the world of puppetry has long been dominated by CISHET white men, mostly out of sheer mirroring of social dynamics rather than overt bigotry. With the introduction of Sesame Street we started to see some of that change, and the field has been getting more diverse and inclusive ever since.

Of course there has been push-back. Puppetry and puppet building attracts a wide variety of people, and not all of them emulate the lessons of Sesame Street. Many who consider themselves conservative or merely “anti-Woke” (whatever that means) object to any amount of inclusiveness or sensitivity to other people’s needs.

Everyone in this field is standing on the shoulders of Jim Henson. That’s just a fact. And Jim, while not without his flaws, was a notably kind and welcoming person. From being foundational to Sesame Street, to promoting Richard Hunt, who was openly gay, he did not shy away from progressiveness. He considered the famous Muppet Show segment with Harry Belafonte some of their best and most important work. He was a staunch supporter of the Civil Rights movement.

This isn’t often talked about, but Jim was also deeply religious. He was raised a Christian Scientist in Mississippi, and although into adulthood he moved away from the strict doctrines of that church, he nevertheless remined Christian his whole life. Today we automatically equate Christian with Conservative, but like every other aspect of his life Jim forged his own path. For him, the purest and most obvious expression of his faith was simple kindness.

That’s a lesson that more of us, particularly in these brutal times, need to remember.

Operation: Puppet is and will always be welcoming, supportive and inclusive.

Rainbow connection, y’know?

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