Sesame Place in Philadelphia was accused of racism after a mother posted a video purportedly showing someone dressed as the Rosita character ignoring her two Black daughters during a parade.
Ben Crump, the lawyer credited with winning the family of George Floyd the record $27 million civil settlement from the city of Minneapolis amid the trial for former police officer Derek Chauvin, reposted the video on Twitter and weighed in, writing: "This is absolutely HEARTBREAKING!"
"These two young Queens did NOT deserve to be blatantly singled out and ignored by this #SesameStreet character!" Crump said. "@SesamePlace MUST address their staff's disgusting behavior!"
The video shows the two Black girls, one stretching out her harms in excitement, waiting for the Rosita character to walk past them during a parade through the park, as an Elmo character waves from a float in the background. The Rosita character is seen high-fiving at least one child and an adult before shaking a finger no in a direction off-screen and then again gesturing "no" before passing the seemingly disappointed girls.
"I’m going to keep posting this, because this had me hot. We were on our way out of sesame place and the kids wanted to stop to see the characters. THIS DISGUSTING person blatantly told our kids NO then proceeded to hug the little white girl next to us!" the mother alleged in a post sharing the video to Instagram Saturday. "Then when I went to complain about it, they looking at me like I’m crazy. I asked the lady who the character was and I wanted to see a supervisor and she told me SHE DIDNT KNOW !! I will never step foot in @sesameplace ever again! And please feel free to repost this. Actually run me my money back."
But Sesame Place subsequently released a statement to apologize and explain the context of the situation, saying that the performer portraying the Rosita character "has confirmed that the ‘no’ hand gesture seen several times in the video was not directed to any specific person, rather it was a response to multiple requests from someone in the crowd who asked Rosita to hold their child for a photo which is not permitted."
"The Rosita performer did not intentionally ignore the girls and is devastated about the misunderstanding," the first statement from Sesame Place Philadelphia continued. "We spoke to the family and extended our apologies and invited them back for a special meet-and-greet opportunity with our characters. We apologize to these guests for not delivering the experience they expected, and we commit to do our best to earn their and all guests’ visit and support."
Sesame Place added that the "costumes our performers wear sometimes make it difficult to see at lower levels and sometimes our performers miss hug request from guests."
But that explanation still drew ire from Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland, who commented in response: "Those gorgeous girls will never forget that feeling! THEY ARE KIDS!!!!! You should be ASHAMED of yourselves for this pathetic statement!"
Rowland also took to Instagram, sharing the video on her story for her 13.4 million followers.
"TF! This just made me So mad!" she wrote. In a follow-up message, she said to viewers, "OK so, had that been me, that whole parade would have been in flames."
"Like, are you serious? You're not going to speak to my child?" Rowland added. "And did you see that baby's face at the end? The little one with the pink on? She deserves an explanation. Hello."
Other Twitter users chimed in against Sesame Place, including Leslie Mac, a digital strategist aligned with the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project, and HBO actor Wendell Pierce, who exclaimed: "WITNESS THE END OF INNOCENCE. WITNESS THE TRAUMA. This moment is violent, scarring, psychological abuse."
Sesame Place later published a follow-up statement, promising equity training for its employees.
"We sincerely apologize to the family for their experience in our park Saturday; we know that it’s not ok. We are taking actions to do better," Sesame Place Philadelphia said in a statement Monday. "We are committed to making this right. We will conduct training for our employees, so they better understand, recognize and deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience to our guests."
"For over 40 years Sesame Place has worked to uphold the values of respect, inclusion and belonging," it added. "We are committed to doing a better job making children and families feel special, seen and included when they come to our parks."
TMZ reported that the family of the Black girls seen in the video hired attorney B’Ivory LaMarr, are calling for an investigation and are weighing the possibility of a lawsuit against the theme park.
"While we hate to rush to judgment to consider 'race' as the motivating factor to explain the performer's actions, such actions both before and after the young girl's request only lead to one conclusion," LaMarr told TMZ.