2021 year in review.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, everyone. We begin THE REIDOUT tonight with 2021. It started off promising a new beginning following the pandemic nightmare of 2020 after the awfulness of the previous four years. But then a new horror emerged, six days in, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to violently overturn the election, leaving five people dead, an event that shook our democracy to its core. Trump was still president. But not for long, because that hostile insurrection thing, it didn't work, as Joe Biden became our new president anyway, as the Constitution demands.
Somewhere, somehow in the middle of all the madness, we've also faced, delta, omicron, a war on U.S. history, a massive rollout plan that vaccinated hundreds of millions of Americans despite widespread anti- vaccine madness. We also saw something that we rarely see in the criminal justice system for black folks, accountability. It was a year that woke everyone up during a pivotal and also scary time for our country. And that is perhaps the biggest takeaway, because next year, it will be just as wild, probably wilder. So, hang on, folks, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Joining me now is Michael Steele, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Tiffany Cross, Host of the Cross Connection on MSNBC, and Jason Johnson, Professor of Journalism and Politics at Morgan State University. Thank you all for being here. I appreciate you guys all.
Okay. So, we're going to start off positive because I like to like get right to the negative, but not today. Not today. We're going to go for the positive first. We like to do a little segment here called Who Won the Week? And you guys are veterans of this fun plan that we've done, like who won the week. Well, now we want to know who won the whole year?
So, let's start off positive. Chairman Steele, my friend, we're going to ask you the big question. It's big question.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Big one.
REID: In your mind, who won the year?
STEELE: Yes, I'm ready for that. But let me just say I am so happy to be with this crew. This is going to be a great conversation. I just want to get it on the record officially, so we know where we're coming from.
So, who won the year? In my book, there's only one person who won the year across the all lines, and that is the Honorable Nancy Pelosi. She has demonstrated time and time again a level of political resilience that is unmatched in modern politics. I know this firsthand because I'm the guy who got her fired in 2010, right? So, I know what I'm talking about.
REID: I remember.
STEELE: I know what I'm talking about.
So, I have such admiration for her from her leadership, her tenacity, I disagree vehemently with a lot of the policies that Nancy is out here promoting. And I rarely get into the trench and do it all over again for the fate. But in terms of trying to hold the line on our democracy, number one, but at the same time, trying to navigate and move this administration, the Biden administration, into a position where it can pick up a win, and she's demonstrated that. She's gotten two good wins for them this year. You have to tip the hat to the once and forever speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
REID: No, I agree with you. I think she is going to go down in history with Tip O'Neal, some of the greats in both of the chambers, the Sam Rayburns, the people you name buildings after. I would say she is probably the most effective speaker of the House probably in U.S. history because she's had to navigate the most difficult times, with a first black president getting through the most massive healthcare change, you know, really since FDR was in or since LBJ. I mean, she's really been the most effective speaker. I don't think you can argue that whether you are politically on her side or not, I think that's not even arguable. So I think that's a really strong choice for you.
And remember, Michael Steele, because you and I used to argue -- remember the days that we used to argue about policy, it was so normal? Wasn't it fun? Remember? That's policy.
STEELE: I love the fact that you were so wrong. And I got the point about --
REID: It was so wrong, Michael Steele. It was so wrong. I loved it though.
Tiffany Cross, after all that little referee with me Michael Steele, remember how wrong Michael Steele was on everything? Lets him now, who, in your mind, Tiffany Cross, Tiffany d. Cross, who won the year?
TIFFANY CROSS, MSNBC HOST: Joy, I have to say, so much of what we talk about comes from reporters, particularly print reporters. So, I have to say print reporters won the year.
You know, those are the people who go and pore through thousands of pages of monotonous government documents, they cultivate sources, they spend months what we talk about in minutes. And we wouldn't know a lot of the things that we do were it not for great reporters.
REID: And I have to say, as a former local news reporter, we've so counted on the Miami Herald, which would break the stories that we could follow-up on and do the deep dive that we didn't necessarily have the resource to do after the Miami Herald -- the Jeffrey Epstein story was completely broken by the Miami Herald. It was not caught by prosecutors or the people who were supposed to serve criminal justice, it was the Miami Herald.
We just recently did a story from a local Utah reporter that uncovered these door-to-door canvasses by nefarious groups who want to try to undermine democracy in that state and in Colorado and other states that are trying to basically intimidate voters and interview them without saying who they are. That was another local reporter.
So, you are absolutely right, Tiffany. We have to try to -- the one thing about these local reporter kind of situations where you need the journalism, but it's like how many subscriptions can I possibly have? I got the Kansas City Star, I got the Herald, I got the Sun Sentinel, and they all add up to like a cable subscription.
CROSS: I know. But, you know, that's the thing though, Joy. People have to remember, journalism is not free. And so get those subscriptions. Pay or gift them to people this holiday season. And people have to remember this is something, you know, that stands on the frontline of democracy just like voters do.
REID: No, you are absolutely right. And, by the way, while you are getting subscription, get The 19th, 19th News. They are breaking incredible stories. Our friend, Errin Haines, that is a journalistic outfit that is definitely worth supporting.
Okay. Now that it's going to be a very high bar for you, Jason Johnson, you know we like to do this and we put you last because we -- like the pressure is on. Amazing answers from the chairman, Michael Steele, from the chairwoman, Tiffany Cross, it's left to you, Jason Johnson. What you got? Who won the year?
JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: So, keeping on brand with my personality, my view of American politics, say hi to the bad guy, my winner of the year is Steve Bannon.
Our country is much less safe, much less democratic, much less capable of protecting its citizens and much more corrupt than it was a year ago. And this man is one of the architects behind it. We all wonder kind of like when you spread up Brady and Belichik. Who is worse? Who is actually behind what has fallen in America? Will Trumpism survive without Trump?
Well, now we've seen it. We've seen that the architects behind tearing our country down and sell it for spare parts are getting still away with it, and ground zero for that is Steve Bannon. This is a man who is behind a coup that's almost a year old and somehow hasn't gone to jail. Jussie Smollett faked a crime and he is in jail, right? But Steve Bannon is responsible for trying to take down this country and turned his (INAUDIBLE) into a reality T.V. show.
This man has won the year and none of us are better off for it but that, unfortunately, is the state of American politics in 2021.
REID: Well, it's interesting because you are absolutely right. I mean, this is a guy who has basically got four shirts and none of them fit. And none of them, I don't think, he launders. He looks literally like a hobo but he has managed to own a president. Donald Trump was basically, completely in his way, he was his Svengali. And then his plan of deconstructing the state and destroying democracy, which he keeps explicitly saying on his stupid podcast or radio show, whatever he does, and he manages to do it. I think he lives for free in some like sheik's apartment in D.C. He's operating -- I don't even know where he makes money.
But you're right, this hobo has managed to destroy and destabilize the country. So, I can't argue with you. It's a negative choice but it's actually kind of accurate.
So, my pick for who won the year actually kind of pivots off of what Jason said, and I would love to get each of you guy's comments. Because I would say that despite all of the attacks on our democracy, despite all of the fight that we've had to try to destroy this multicultural democracy, this experiment that doesn't exist anywhere in the world, it has not ever worked, really, I would say black women won the year, and this is why. Because the fight that people lake LaTosha Brown have put up, that Stacey Abrams have put up, that Nse Ufot, you could think of so many of these women who have refused to lay down, refused to stand down and have insisted that they're going to continue to push forward, Darnella Frazier, the teenager who filmed the George Floyd murder and changed the world really by doing that. Black women I think are fighting the good damn fight.
So, I'm going to give black women. You all won the year. You all won the year. Tiffany, can I get an amen, Tiffany Cross?
CROSS: Amen. I mean, look, we won the year, Joy, we are in that, the most amazing sorority that exists.
It is all black women, to be among this group of women.
Black women, as LaTosha Brown said, and she was honored as the Glamour Woman of the Year ceremony, he gets stuff done, and it's true. But even though black women won the year, Joy, I do want to say that we are not (INAUDIBLE). We are not out here saying, it's our job to save the world. We're trying to save ourselves and the world benefits from it. We're trying to save our husbands, our daughters, our sons, our sisters, our mothers, our parents. We're trying to save our immediate family and everyone else that benefits from it.
But I hope while they benefit, that there are certain people out there who take note and lessons because we're tired. And this fight would not be such a brutal battle if we could look to our left and right and see our counterparts and allies fighting with the same amount of righteous anger that we bring to these debates and these wars every single day. So, I hope while we celebrate black women, that we are delivering and showing a lesson for others to learn.
REID: And I think about Cori Bush, I think about Ayanna Pressley, I think about Ilhan Omar, all of these women who are taking all of the heat and all of the threats, the death threats. It is not easy. And women of color have really come together, I have to say, even more broadly. The sisterhood of women of color, the squad is a perfect example of it. They have fought together arm in arm, linked arm in arm, the progressive caucus, God bless them. And they are women of all races and colors and but they are women of color primarily. We're trying to save this country, you all. Can you just let us, please?
All right, my friend is speaking with me for the absolute worst of 2021. That is next.
THE REIDOUT continues after this.
REID: 2021 was hardly a slow news year. And while there were a few promising headlines, we saw a lot of awfulness, from the Republican rebellion against democracy, to the wild spread of vaccine misinformation and bounty hunting abortion laws. We've had plenty of targets, plenty, for our absolute worst, let's take a look.
REID: Kremlin crews, the border antics starring Crocodile Cruz, who perhaps thinks that swamp creature realness will make him more electable.
So, yes, yes, Ted, freedom screamer, Cancun Cruz is the absolute worst, but wasn't he always, really?
Baby MAGA DeSantis.
Grim reaper of the south.
Sacrificing citizens' lives for a career as a wannabe death cult leader.
Tuckums, a totally plausible understudy for Ricky Schroder in silver spoons.
Tuckster donning his fur furrowed brow meant to signal gravitas.
We now know the male version of a Karen with 911 on speed dial and a sense of presumed authority over other people's lives should from this day on be called a Tucker.
Good ole spineless House minority leader --
Puppet Kevin, Hypocrite Kevin, or maybe it's Balloon Man Kevin because he has some spine.
But Gaetz has managed to make Beavis and Butthead he is one and looks like the other, you guess which.
The QAnon, conspiracy-loving Marjorie Taylor Greene --
She also blamed the California wildfire on a Jewish-controlled laser beam from outer space.
Trump is and will always be the absolute worst.
The once fringy anti-vax movement has been hijacked and radicalized by a far-right agenda, which puts a dangerous target on the backs of educators and young people.
The absolute scariest, and do you want to know the substance of my spooky nightmares? Come closer, closer, closer. It's not ghosts or goblins or things that go boo. It's what America could look like in January, 2025.
The Republican Party is a lot of things, anti-democracy, anti-voting, anti- history, anti-facts and deeply opposed to anti-racism. What they are not is pro-life.
The modern day Republican Party is the living embodiment of the race to the bottom.
REID: Back with me are Michael, Tiffany, Jason and my full hair journey. I feel like my hair journey is actually part of what's happened, right? I feel I had a whole journey.
STEELE: Well, I was going to say, at least your hair has a journey, I mean, Jason and I --
JOHNSON: Yes, mine left.
REID: That was a journey too.
JOHNSON: It's gone.
REID: That was a journey too. You all got there. I know you all had your so-fros when you had them. You know what I'm saying? It was a journey.
STEELE: It was like a high top with a part, but, yes, yes.
REID: Did you have a Gumby? You all had a Gumby. I know at least one of you or two had a Gumby. Let's move along.
JOHNSON: I did.
REID: Or Jheri curl?
JOHNSON: Those pictures are hidden but they exist.
REID: The Jheri curl? Come on now. Let's just be real.
CROSS: That's the Soul Glo, Jason. Jason has a picture in a Soul Glo. I know that.
REID: You know. Listen, the life of black hair. So, anyway, we can do a whole show about that. But let's talk about the absolute worst. So, let's see, which order should I go with? I mean, let's go in reverse. Let's put the game down, flip it and reverse it. Let's go to Jason.
Jason, tell me who you think? It's hard to fit because there are so many bad ones.. What is the absolute worst in your view of this year 2021?
JOHNSON: So, Joy, you went through a lot of the most hairable people, a lot of the people who are obvious and clear politically, who we can be unhappy with, who are terrible. But the absolute worst person for me is defined by the fact that we had some expectation that they have disappointed, it will harm us all, and that is Merrick Garland.
Merrick Garland will go down as the Neville Chamberlain of American politics. Merrick Garland, who has, at times, defended some of Trump's behavior, stood in the way of some of the things that Congress has done, sat there passively as abortion rights have been snapped, put together sort of meek prosecutions and lawsuits against what's happening against voting rights in Georgia and different kind of places. Merrick Garland has been the single worst political figure in the country this year. And the consequences of his weakness and cowardice and feckless behavior may be our loss of democracy next year.
REID: Yes. I mean, listen, when he was President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court.
You know, and you had all kinds of other people out there that he could have necessarily picked, the Sherrilyn Ifills, all kinds of different people...
REID: ... and my face was sort of like, hmm, hmm.
So, I'm not sure that he is the man for this moment. I do call him Merrick the mild, because he does seem to be very calm about what feels like a very urgent threat to our democracy. But we shall see. Perhaps things will change.
Tiffany Cross, who is the "Absolute Worst"?
CROSS: OK, I'm going to tell you the "Absolute Worst."
I am so tired of wearing masks everywhere I go, of events getting canceled, of not being able to gather in large places. So the "Absolute Worst" are these ridiculous, uninformed, disillusioned people who think their Google search matches an actual medical degree, and they refuse to get vaccinated.
CROSS: I am so over them. They don't understand how science works.
CROSS: So I hear so often people will say, well, if I'm -- if you're vaccinated and I'm not, everybody should be protected, right, because the vaccine works that way.
And it's like, no, you doofus, that's actually not how the vaccine works. Now, look, there are certainly people out there who have a legitimate reason for not getting vaccinated. To those people, I say God bless you and Godspeed and may you be a bubble.
For everyone else, you are causing society to come to a screeching halt. And that casts a dark shadow over so many other areas of the globe. And I think about, Joy, those people in India, where we saw videos of sons trying to revive their mothers because they could not get their hands on a vaccine.
And yet these privileged, idiotic people refuse to get the vaccine, and refuse to wear masks sometimes. And you wonder, they think -- I say this all the time. People who haven't known actual oppression can mistake a mask for oppression.
REID: That's right.
CROSS: And you wonder, if you have managed to live your whole entire life, and the first thing to oppress you was a mask, then why were you so basic this whole time anyway?
Please go get vaccinated. And if you can't get vaccinated, go live on a little island, preferably at Mar-a-Lago, and live there with all your other unvaccinated, unintellectual people, so the rest of us can live freely, "Absolute Worst."
REID: It's not Sunday, but you can get an amen.
REID: It's not church, but you can get a hallelujah.
REID: Oh, I don't know even how.
JOHNSON: You can pass the plate. You can pass the plate around.
REID: The doors of the church are open. Come in if you're vaccinated, but only if you're vaccinated.
REID: Oh, Michael Steele, Pastor, Bishop, Reverend, Dr. Michael Steele, you got to follow that sermon.
And I don't know how you're going to do it. I feel sorry for you. It's your charge, because you're the chairman. Help. Help Michael Steele. Help him, Jesus.
REID: Look down upon him and give him wisdom and discernment, please.
REID: Michael Steele, who is the "Absolute Worst"?
STEELE: Well, that's another church. I'm sorry.
REID: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
You wouldn't even know I was a Methodist growing up. Go on, sir.
STEELE: I don't know how I'm going to -- how I'm going to do better than pastor, who has just laid out his sermon.
REID: She did.
STEELE: But what I basically -- what I want to do in sort of addressing the worst is just to get one big bucket and put all that issue laid in to at the beginning of the segment in that bucket, every last one of them, and every last one...
STEELE: ... from Matt, to Marjorie, to Paul, to McCarthy, all of them in the same bucket,.
This Dan Crenshaw, Republican congressman, put it best. These are the performance artists. So, the performance artists inside the GOP, which is largely now most of the party, right, particularly the elected wing of the party...
STEELE: ... have become the big grifters, have become the big emancipators of white fear.
STEELE: And those who want to address the plight of the downtrodden who are living in suburbia afraid of someone who's 7,000 miles away from them, this is the mess that they have created.
STEELE: They have put out on the street a cesspool of stupid that people keep jumping into this pool.
REID: Yes. Yes.
STEELE: I don't know why, but they do.
STEELE: They are the worst.
REID: They are the worst, yes, absolutely.
And I got to tell you, you also can get an amen on that, Chairman Steele.
And that leads directly to mine. I feel like, with all that all of you have said, we have one body in this country that is supposed to be able to discern right from wrong and set things right when things are wrong. And that is the United States Supreme Court.
To me, they have failed utterly their job as this -- delineated by the Constitution to protect the most vulnerable. They only want to protect the rich, the powerful, the corporations, the religious extremists. They have allowed the Texas bounty hunter law to stand. They have allowed voter -- the discrimination against voters to stand.
Thank God, thank God for Sonia Sotomayor, who is the conscience of that body, but they have failed us. They have three Trumpers on there, and they are doing exactly what Donald Trump wants. And goodbye to Roe v. Wade, you all. Vote based on the court. The court is important.
I hope Ketanji Brown will eventually be on their, set things right, and stare weird at Clarence Thomas if he's still on there with her. But God help us if that court is supposed to be our salvation, because they ain't doing it.
Michael Steele, Tiffany Cross, Jason Johnson, thank you all very much.
Up next, I recently spoke with the World Food Program's new goodwill ambassador, celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern, about the worrying rise in food insecurity right here in the U.S. and what we can do about it. It was a fascinating discussion. Do not miss it.
REID: The world has been grappling with the grueling realities of the COVID pandemic for nearly two years now.
And while things have improved for many of us, thanks to the vaccines, COVID-19 has claimed alive of nearly 800,000 Americans. Stress and anxiety have also taken a brutal emotional toll on millions more. Many have lost their jobs and their homes and are struggling are struggling to feed their families, which has exacerbated food insecurity in this country.
Researchers at NYU found that nearly 15 percent of U.S. households and close to 18 percent of households with children reported food insecurity early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
NBC's Ali Vitali spoke with one of those families recently about what it's like to feed their family in this challenging new world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I can feed my family for 10, 12 bucks a night, that works.
ALI VITALI, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: What happens when you get towards the end of the month?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's not.
VITALI: The father of two boys in Orange County, California, lost his home and job during the pandemic and joined SNAP, the government's supplemental nutrition assistance program, previously called food stamps, to help feed his family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want any noodles?
VITALI: It's forced some tough choices in the checkout line.
What has that been like?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Humiliating. You got to pick and choose your battle. Who am I going to upset, myself, my kid, what kid? It's not going to be the full fulfillment of a meal.
VITALI: The decisions made in these aisles go way beyond dollars and cents. Staying on budget can mean the difference between fruits and vegetables being swapped out for less costly sugary cereals and processed foods.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Last year, more than 38 million people lived in food-insecure households. More than nine million adults lived in households with very low food insecurity. Six million children lived in households in which both the children and the adults were food-insecure.
And half-a-million children lived in households in which one or more child experienced very low food security.
I recently spoke with award-winning chef, social activist and the new goodwill ambassador for the United Nations World Food Program Andrew Zimmern.
And I asked him how COVID exacerbated the food insecurity problem in this country.
ANDREW ZIMMERN, GOODWILL AMBASSADOR, WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: Well, just like it's done globally, we have experienced a potential 15-year setback in the fight against hunger and the fight against food waste.
Globally, it's the same story as it is here at home. It's conflict, climate change, COVID-19 and the rising cost of food. And it is absolutely staggering to me that, in America of just -- of the end of 2021, that we are still sitting here talking about a problem that is solvable, because we produce enough food to feed all Americans, as well as the seven billion- person global population.
I will also point out to our viewers the numbers that you put up on the screen are probably anywhere from 10 to 25 percent too low. One of the problems of stats when it relates to hunger and food insecurity is, there aren't a lot of people jumping up and down, those who are willing to say, yes, yes, yes, I need food, I'm not able to feed my family.
That very brave man, who was in the scene we just saw that Ali was reporting on is a responsible parent who's out there saying, yes, this is this is the situation that I'm in.
But we have found there's so much stigma attached with hunger, it's the people who were above the poverty line pre-COVID, that 15, 18 percent of Americans that dropped below the poverty line in March of last year, April of last year, those are the ones who are not jumping up and down raising their hand.
It's absolutely heartbreaking. And it is all related to those four C's, climate change, cost, COVID, and conflict.
REID: You know, it's interesting that you mention climate change, cost, and COVID, and conflict.
There's a big debate right now about whether or not Democrats can get through this Build Back Better act, which a lot of what it addresses feels like it's about this. I remember you and I talked almost a year ago now about the RESTAURANTS Act and having to like try to help people at every level of the food chain.
You need to make sure that the restaurant workers can still work, that the people who do the meatpacking can still work, and making sure it all kind of works, when there was some help for people back then and PPP, et cetera.
But now it's like, how are we having this fight about whether to extend, let's say, the child tax credit, give people a little bit more money to buy food with? Does it strike you as just insane that we are still dithering about whether or not to spend more money to make sure that people can get three square meals a day?
ZIMMERN: I think it's beyond insane.
You and I have talked about this so many times. I have used the word criminal when we talk about hunger. It is not a problem that we don't have a solution to. We have enough food in America. We don't have the political will to actually change the laws.
When you just talk about children, we have schools all over America. If we passed a national school meals program, where we fed young people and use schools as the hubs -- they are all over. Whether or not a child is attending a certain educational facility, their are schools spread out all over. They all have cafeterias.
If we subsidize schools to the degree that we subsidize farmers who are growing crops for export, by the way, farm to freighter, not necessarily food for human consumption, we would be doing ourselves a much greater service.
Not only are we consigning those children to hunger, but, remember, they're greater chances that their outcomes are going to be less efficient than we would want. Hungry children don't study well, sleep less, more prone to disease. The cost escalates, because then they start becoming a health care problem.
And they get some of the big food-related diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, as young adults. And we're seeing early onset pediatric diabetes numbers going through the roof, because, as we saw earlier, people are being fed cheap calories, instead of healthy calories.
REID: I want to put up the states where you have the biggest food insecurity. It turns out it's the same states that have the lowest rates of getting people vaccinated. It turns out it's the same states where Medicaid wasn't expanded. It turns out that there's just this part of America -- unfortunately, it is red America -- where you're seeing all of this.
Isn't it the case that the more that kids are out of school, let's say, because of COVID, they have to learn at home, the more they're away from a good nutrition program, the more that they're basically trapped by COVID, the hungrier kids are going to be?
Don't we have to solve COVID in order to start solving hunger?
ZIMMERN: I think it's -- you're not incorrect. And I agree with you. I know where you're going with this, and I agree with you 100 percent.
It's really a Mobius strip. So you just have to sort of drop in anywhere on that Mobius strip, and solve the problem, and, eventually, if you go astronaut style, question by question, and solve it, you can solve it.
I will describe it a slightly different way. We have talked about those near 800,000 people dying. Some people say they have died of COVID. Some people have asserted they have died of disinformation. I did not clone -- I have cloned that comment. I did not create it.
ZIMMERN: It's the same thing with the hunger issues as well. There is disinformation about food in those states, about nutrition in those states.
The disinformation battle is being lost. And that's increasing our hunger challenge as well.
REID: Yes, absolutely. And if you increase those comorbidities, like diabetes, et cetera, it actually makes you more vulnerable to dying of COVID. It's all connected.
Andrew Zimmern, you are great, thank you so much. Always appreciate the chance to talk with you.
ZIMMERN: Thank you, Joy.
REID: Up next: An amazing new documentary takes us back to the street so many of us grew up on, "Sesame Street," and reminds us how conservatives rejected the show's groundbreaking diversity then, just as they are today.
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM HENSON, ACTOR (SINGING): And green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree.
SONIA MANZANO, ACTRESS: And I remember thinking, are they singing about what I think they're singing about? Of course they were singing about race, but they were also singing about being down in the dumps because you're a little green frog..
Some kids just thought it was about a little green puppet. And other kids thought maybe it was something else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: For more than 50 years, the Muppets that live on one of America's most famous streets have been entertaining and, more importantly, educating generations of children.
"Sesame Street" helped teach my kids important lessons and values that they still hold today, especially the idea that we can all live together, no matter what street we come from or what color our skin, fur or feathers are.
Of course, "Sesame Street" is not immune to today's culture of hyperpartisan attacks, but, in truth, it has faced opposition since its inception in 1969. In fact, just months after its debut, the show was temporarily banned in Mississippi because of its diversity.
A new HBO documentary, "Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street," shares the origins of this American treasure and how such a talented ensemble came together to create a brand-new concept in learning that still holds true today.
Joining me now is the director of the documentary, Marilyn Agrelo, and Sonia Manzano, the actress who played Maria on "Sesame Street" more than -- for more than 40 years.
And I'm fangirling out because you're one of my absolute heroes, Maria. Oh, my God. I can't believe I'm talking to the real Maria. So I'm just going to say I'm just excited to talk to you. You helped raise me and I -- and my kids. And I feel like you're everything.
So just talk a little bit about what you talked about in that clip a little bit, because, "It's Not That Easy Being Green," my crew knows it's one of my favorite songs. My E.P., Tina, sent it to me and I nearly sat here and cried listening to it, Ray Charles singing it with Kermie.
But you caught on to something that I think a lot of people miss, that that song meant something to a little brown kid and my little brown kids, because it was about being different.
Talk a little bit about what "Sesame Street" means.
MANZANO: I sure will, absolutely.
I will never forget that moment, because when I walked in on the song, Lena Horne was signing with Kermit the Frog.
MANZANO: So, and I had just -- I wasn't a writer on the show. So I didn't know the behind-the-scenes yibbedy (ph), yibbedy was going on.
MANZANO: But I certainly knew that, well, this was nuanced, and it was working on a lot of levels, and it was sophisticated, and I was thrilled to be a part of
REID: It was -- it's incredible.
And, Marilyn, let's talk about this movie, because I think a lot of people kind of missed that point. It was pretty revolutionary to create something like "Sesame Street" in the 1960s, in the late 1960s, when we still had an active fight over civil rights going on.
We had just lost Dr. King the year before. There was still a lot of volatility racially. How did this incredible thing get started?
MARILYN AGRELO, DIRECTOR, "STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET": This is one of my favorite things about this story, the fact that, yes, it's a movie about "Sesame Street," but it really is a story of this group of performers, writers, educators who came out of this tumultuous point in our country.
The protests against the Vietnam War were in full steam. The woman's movement was just starting. The civil rights movement was burgeoning. And this group got together and said, we want to make a difference. We want to reach underserved children.
MANZANO: I just want to add that it was -- meant so much to me to get on the show because I was raised in the Bronx watching hours of television, never seeing any Puerto Ricans on television or any Latin people on television, and feeling invisible.
So when they asked me to be on this show, I thought, oh, my goodness, I could be for kids what I wished there was someone there for me when I was a kid.
REID: And I have to say to you -- and I keep on -- I keep on almost calling you Maria, but I'm not going to do that.
You literally were one -- honestly, I think you might have been the first Latina that I really saw on a regular basis on TV, and that, I think, for a lot of kids. And I grew up in a town that was majority black and brown.
And so for the Latina kids, for the black kids, like, we were not seeing a lot of people of color, but we saw you and you were our friend.
And can -- I want to get your take first just on the fight that we have seen. We just had an Asian American Muppet that was introduced to "Sesame Street," a little puppet who's Asian American. We had Muppets who were black, Muppets who represented African-Americans. All of that has happened on "Sesame Street."
What do you make of this fight about this adorable new Asian American Muppet?
MANZANO: I just can't understand it. I can't fathom why it's difficult.
I wish it had come on sooner. I think that when we had Roosevelt Franklin on the show...
MANZANO: ... I would refer to him as the Roosevelt Franklin syndrome.
It was difficult because he was the first black puppet and he didn't fulfill everybody's dreams of what a black puppet should be, too street, not street enough, too hip-hop, not hip-hop enough.
Sadly, what happened was, they cut the puppet because everybody couldn't agree how a black puppet should be presented.
MANZANO: There wasn't another black puppet on "Sesame Street" for 50 years. And that's the problem when people can't decide or they think -- they think a whole culture has to rest on the shoulders of one character.
REID: Yes. No, absolutely.
And, Marilyn, I think that's the point too. There is no character who can make everyone happy. But "Sesame Street" probably has tried more than any other show in history to represent every child, even all the -- not even real children.
I mean, there are little red Muppets and purple Muppets, a Muppet who can fly. I'm a Grover girl. I love Grover, because he's super, and he's Grover.
But, I mean, it's like there's every fantasy kind of creature and fairy tale friend.
I just wonder, what will we learn about "Sesame Street"? Because that's subversive to have done in the 1960s. What do you want people to take away from this documentary?
AGRELO: I want people to take away the fact that, first of all, "Sesame Street" did what they have done throughout their whole history, which is reflect the world back to children as the world should be, without even calling attention to it, without pointing a finger and saying, look, there's a black puppet, look, there's an Asian puppet.
It's just what is.
AGRELO: And I want people to realize that creativity and art really can make a difference and change the world.
And when you present something this creative and this inspiring to children, you really can inspire them to think of the world in a way that is purer and loving.
I cannot wait to watch this documentary. I'm probably going to cry all the way from beginning until the very end, and I'm going to be so excited. My kids are going to be so jealous that I got to meet the real Maria. They're going to be excited. They're going to be like, what?
MANZANO: Thank you.
REID: But it happened.
Thank you. Happy holidays. Congratulations, Marilyn Agrelo, Sonia Manzano, thank you, sisters. Thank you so much for being here. Really appreciate you both. Happy holidays.
And we will be right back.
AGRELO: Thank you so much.
MANZANO: Thank you. Gracias.
REID: Well, we made it through another smoking hot mess of a year, but one of the things that has kept me going is this fabulous show and my magical, gorgeous staff and crew.
Thank you to everyone involved in the making of this show. And thanks to you at home for watching.
Happy holidays to you and your family.