Arthur, the bespectacled aardvark beloved by generations of viewers, is finally about to start the fourth grade. And in the new school year, he and his pals will befriend some new classmates — including a Sikh boy named Samir.
The character of Samir will make his debut in “Arthur’s First Day,” an upcoming special scheduled to premiere on PBS on September 6. The hour-long episode was created as part of season 25 before it was announced that the series would be ending, according to executive producer Carol Greenwald.
In “Arthur’s First Day,” BFFs Arthur and Buster get assigned to different classes on their first day of fourth grade and find themselves having to make new friends. Arthur gets to know Alex, a boy he went to third grade with, better. Buster, meanwhile, becomes buds with Samir as the two work together to solve a mystery.
Samir’s identity is evident in the details — he wears a patka, a head covering worn by Sikh boys, and a kara, a steel bangle and Sikh article of faith. But besides those markers, “Arthur’s First Day” doesn’t make Samir’s faith background central to the story, said Greenwald.
Rather, Samir exists in the “Arthur” universe much like any other character.
“In this special, which deals with the uncertainties of the first day of school, we wanted to raise awareness about the challenges a kid might [face] when meeting new classmates, but we don’t make the specifics of the clothing, in this case the patka, the focus,” Greenwald wrote in an email to CNN. “We did what we typically do — create a multidimensional character who Buster — and other kids — would be interested in hanging out with.”
The inclusion of Samir is a part of the series’ longstanding mission to ensure that the children watching see their worlds reflected on screen, Greenwald said. The “Arthur” universe has long been diverse — Arthur has a nuclear family while Buster is raised by a single parent, Muffy comes from wealth while Francine lives in a lower-income household. Mr. Ratburn, their third-grade teacher, came out as gay and got married.
“We also hope that kids who do wear a patka or other cultural dress feel seen and represented on our show,” Greenwald said.
Though the iconic children’s series is coming to an end, Greenwald said it’s possible that Samir could have a future in the “Arthur” digital content that will continue being created. He also appears in a digital game that accompanies the episode, she added.
“Arthur’s First Day” is the latest children’s media slated to feature a Sikh character.
The upcoming Pixar film “Turning Red,” from Oscar-winning director Domee Shi, includes a Sikh character who is a school security guard. He appears in the trailer wearing a uniform and a navy turban.
In recent years, there have also been a number of children’s books that depict Sikh characters, including “Super Satya Saves the Day” by Raakhee Mirchandani, “Fauja Singh Keeps Going” by Simran Jeet Singh, “Ajeet Singh: The Invincible Lion” by Bhajneet Singh and “A Lion’s Mane” by Navjot Kaur.
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