As the zeitgeist of 2021 continues, big companies continue to pander to certain elements of society, particularly to anyone who is not a white male.
Everything seems to echo this sentiment – from Kevin Feige’s statement last week about why Doctor Strange didn’t show up in Wandavision, to the accusations of whitewashing in Star Wars: The Bad Batch.
To add to this continuing bandwagoning, the Jim Henson Company posted an audition call to Twitter this week for “top talent and new creative voices from diverse communities and backgrounds to train as puppeteers in the Jim Henson technique.”
Described by the company as an ‘inclusive workshop’, the program’s criteria states the Los Angeles company is currently looking to train “members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and women of all cultural backgrounds.”
The Jim Henson Company, headquartered in Los Angeles, CA, is seeking top talent and new creative voices from diverse communities and backgrounds to train as puppeteers in the Jim Henson technique. Please see posted images for complete submission guidelines. pic.twitter.com/8l5Sbv3dZ0— The Jim Henson Company (@hensoncompany) May 13, 2021
This workshop also requires an applicant to submit a short sample of their puppetry and/or their comedic work and will take place across five days, 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, in mid July. Furthermore, the audition call also notes that even if one participates in the workshop, it does not guarantee employment.
Absent from this audition announcement: white males.
The White Male in Hollywood
What’s funny here is that the namesake for the company, Jim Henson, is a white male if ever the world saw one.
But on screen, you mostly saw his work in action. Kermit the Frog. Gonzo. Yoda. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the 1990 live-action film. For the first two entries on this list, he is synonymous with those creations. However, not many are familiar with his work in other major films in Hollywood. And his race, his gender, and his cultural background was never a factor.
The continued push in the entertainment industry against the white male is notable. Every property coming out in the current year is strangely absent of any strong characters with this aesthetic.
Just look at Marvel Studios. Black Widow, a Marvel film set to come out this July, will feature a number of women. Notably, Scarlett Johansson, in a reprisal of her Marvel Cinematic Universe character, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff.
According to the trailers, the only white male featured in the film will be Red Guardian. At least as far as the trailers have shown, the David Harbour-portrayed character will be viewed as a fat Thor/Captain America Russian rip-off whose service to the plot is more levity and comedic punching bag compared to the rest of the cast, who deal with the seriousness of the mission.
Another film, Eternals, features a diverse cast from every cultural, racial, and gentrified background. However, rumors surrounding an alleged plot leak have claimed that Ikaris, the main character of the group in the comics set to be played by Richard Madden, will serve as more a side character to Gemma Chan’s Sersi.
We’ve also seen this in their short series offerings, where white males were relegated to villains, sidekicks, or despicable anti-hero types. Notably Director Hayward in Wandavision, and both Bucky and U.S. Agent in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
As seen in the upcoming titles for Disney Plus, Marvel programming is set to move even further away from white male leads, With Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Hawkeye looking to prop up women in lead roles. The only exception is Moon Knight, which currently has little fanfare surrounding its production.
Falling in Line
In the end, the Jim Henson Company’s casting call is yet another case of a large corporate entity pushing agendas based on race, gender, and socio-political affiliations, in the name of cultural diversity and ‘inclusivity’, while in reality practicing the diametrically opposite behavior of that very word.
In 2004, The Muppets, a staple to the Jim Henson company, was sold to Disney (though the Henson family still retains ownership over most of his other properties, including Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street).
Since then, there appears to have been a Hollywood-wide cultural shift, at least on social media, in the social justice direction, as Equal Opportunity Employment practices and merit now come secondary to less important, surface-level qualities.
The Jim Henson Company is no longer an exception to this rule. In fact, the replies to the audition call seem to echo that very thing.
Twitter user Sno_Dub writes “Been training my entire life for an opportunity like this. But im not allowed to apply because of my skin color. Jim Henson would be ashamed.”
Been training my entire life for an opportunity like this. But im not allowed to apply because of my skin color. 😔 Jim Henson would be ashamed.— Sno Dub 🈁️⛄⚔ (@Sno_Dub) May 13, 2021
“This is called discrimination, SJWs,” writes Dataracer117.
This is called discrimination, SJWs.— Dataracer (@Dataracer117) May 14, 2021
DaytonaFalls chimes in with the summation of the requirements, “White ppl not welcome.” (Which is half-true. White women are allowed to audition under the gender requirement.)
White ppl not welcome— DaytonaFalls (@DaytonaFalls) May 13, 2021
And finally, @Equalismer hit on an interesting point: “‘Calling everyone who’s not a cis white male.’ Why not just be upfront about it? I would be fully in support of this if it weren’t for ‘women of all backgrounds.’ You’re giving one more advantage to the single most privileged social group in the modern world: cis white women.”
“Calling everyone who’s not a cis white male.” Why not just be upfront about it?— That guy (@Equalismer) May 14, 2021
I would be fully in support of this if it weren’t for “women of all backgrounds.” You’re giving one more advantage to the single most privileged social group in the modern world: cis white women.
The Unravelling of the Muppets
This was a hectic year for the Muppets shows. They were getting lambasted on social media for having disclaimers put in front of episodes for harmful content. There was online discussion about Miss Piggy being cancelled due to her abusive behavior toward Kermit the Frog. And their parent company, Disney, has been trending for its wokeness, most recently for their alleged use of a training program based on critical race theory.
It also goes without mentioning that the content for the Muppets, since their 75 million purchase by Disney in 2004, has been slim. On the Disney Plus streaming platform, there are only a few titles to be found under the Muppets collection. Even then, finding the shows is hard enough, as you would need to scroll past the more popular/recent titles just to get to the collection lists.
There’s also been a general lack of interest in the puppetry business, nevermind anything Jim Henson, because of Hollywood’s push to integrate digital animation into live-action settings. Ultimately, this all has led to a lack of movement from the Disney company to produce anything with the Muppets going forward.
As for the remnants of the Jim Henson Company, there’s even less on the horizon. The last proper Henson movie, The HappyTime Murders, was only notable for winning the 2019 Raspberry Award for Worst Actress, thanks to star Melissa McCarthy.
Along with the Muppets for Disney, the Jim Henson Company proper has nothing lined up for future production.
So does it make sense for a company with a declining viewership and waning interest in the lost art of puppetry to pander to the socio-political pressures of a landscape that is becoming all the more willing to abandon it for digital craft? Not really. However, the Jim Henson Company is headquartered in the middle of Hollywood; It only makes sense for it to discriminate in its hiring practices like its other tinsel-town neighbors.
What do you think about The Jim Henson Company putting out a “No White Guys Allowed” audition call? Sound off in the comments below or let’s talk about it on social media!