Sunday, May 27, 2012

Videos of Kevin Clash & The "Being Elmo" Documentary

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information and showcases three selected videos about African American puppeteer Kevin Clash & the Sundance Film Festival award winning documentary "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey", a film by Constance Marks.

The content of this post is presented for historical, educational, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes. The copyrights remain with their owners.

My thanks to Kevin Clash for following his dream, for becoming a role model for so many people, and for creating the loveable character Elmo and other Sesame Street puppets. My thanks also to Constance Marks, the producer of that film, and her production company. In addition, I thank the uploaders of these featured videos, and the authors of the excerpted online articles.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is a 2011 American documentary film directed by Constance Marks about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo, the widely beloved Sesame Street character.

The film follows Clash on his early years in Baltimore, Maryland, how he came to meet Kermit Love and Jim Henson, and the phenomenon of Elmo.
The story of how a shy and sweet-natured but imposingly big black dude (and yes, race, though only briefly acknowledged, is a part of the narrative) became one of the world's most successful kid's-show artists is told in the terrific documentary "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey,"...

A believer that puppets should be "true, good and meaningful," Clash gave Elmo a high-pitched and unthreateningly infantile voice and a personality to match. The idea was to make the puppet especially appealing to very young children: "I knew that Elmo should represent love -- just kissing and hugging," Clash explains. It was this appeal that made the "Tickle Me Elmo" doll the hottest toy of 1996. As a result of the Elmomania that ensued, the puppet -- with Clash just off-camera, or making himself as inconspicuous as possible -- has made personal and television guest appearances with Oprah, Michelle Obama and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, among many, many others.

I'm interested in exploring whether and how puppeteer Kevin Clash's race influences his depiction of the loveable three and one half year old red monster named "Elmo". For that reason (and because I'm currently working on posts about African American hand gestures)*, I was delighted to find two examples of Elmo giving someone a High Five. One of those examples is found at 3:01-3:02 in Video #2 below. Another example is found in the beginning of a video clip of Elmo singing with a beatboxer

*Click for Part II of a five Part series on hand gestures.

I believe that "Elmo" is outside of (or beyond) race or ethnicity. However, other characters that Kevin Clash has created exhibit more Black cultural characteristics than Elmo. For instance, it seems to me that the characters of Hoots the Owl and Clifford the musician clearly express their "Blackness" through their use of African American Vernacular English and, in the case of Clifford, in his physical appearance. Click "Put Down The Duckie" for a video clip that includes Hoots The Owl. And click for a video clip that includes an appearance of Clifford the musician. That Arsenio Hall show clip is memorable because the first part of that interview featured puppeteer Jim Henson- the founder of Sesame Street- with one of his star character's "Kermit The Frog" and this was to be Jim Henson's last interview before his death.

It's my position that it's significant that Elmo's puppeteer is an African American male regardless of whether Elmo exhibits any cultural Blackness or not. Kevin Clash is a role model because he dared to follow his dream of being a puppeteer, and because he's very good at what he does. A perhaps unexpected bonus of the "Being Elmo" documentary is that some non-Black people may have their perspectives of Black people broadened. And it's possible that some of Elmo's likeability extends to his puppeteer Kevin Clash. In a world where Black people are routinely protrayed negatively, and where so many Black children and youth think their options are limited, the more positive stories and positive role models of Black people we have, the better it is and the better it will be.

Click a href=" for more information about "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey", including where you can purchase the DVD, and/or where you can see the film in your area.

Click for more information about Kevin Clash.

Hat tip to Andrea Plaid for her article which inspired me to showcase Kevin Clash and the "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" documentary on this pancocojams blog.

Video #1: Independent Lens | Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey | Trailer | PBS

Independent Lens, Uploaded on Jan 24, 2012

Video #2: 10 Questions for Elmo (and Puppeteer Kevin Clash)

TIME Uploaded on Dec 6, 2011

Kevin Clash, the man behind Elmo, talks about Elmo's unforseen fame and 'Being Elmo,' the new documentary based on his life

Video #3: Elmo interviews Kevin Clash: My Life as a Furry Red Monster

Random House Books Uploaded on Jul 28, 2008

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