A Noble Experiment: Vegetable Soup

A Noble Experiment

Vegetable Soup and Television's Attempt to End Racism in 1970s America

In a bold effort to combat the “environment of racism” in America

a unique public health initiative arose - an initiative that fell at the cross-roads of popular television and public education. The first children’s television series of its kind to directly focus on race, racism, and racial isolation, and the first publicly-funded television series to air on both public and commercial stations, Vegetable Soup was hailed in its day as a “noble experiment in human values.” It was a celebration of a vision for a better America, and a cautionary tale of our nation’s cycle of racial awakening and complacency. Because after only two seasons, the noble experiment was abandoned. This film examines why.

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In September 1975, a new federally-funded children’s program—Vegetable Soup—premiered on commercial and public television stations with the expressed aim of using television to counter “the negative effects of racial prejudice.” Vegetable Soup was executive produced by the award-winning producer Yanna Kroyt Brandt and involved a remarkable multi-ethnic creative team and equally remarkable multi-ethic cast which presented people of color as the primary personalities – a rarity in the 1970s as much as it is today. Considered by one contemporary health provider to be “a noble experiment in human values,” the series won numerous awards and remains a unique and underappreciated initiative in American cultural history. But after two seasons, it ended.

Vegetable Soup was at once a product of 1970s America and a by-product of the social justice movements and related legislation of the previous decade. It was more than a mere children’s educational television series. It was a unique public health initiative, ahead of its time and in tune with contemporary efforts to define the social determinants of health, namely race, racism, and racial isolation.

The documentary film, A Noble Experiment explores the role of mass media in America’s environment for racism through the lens of this singular children’s program. The film examines the conceptual origins of the program, its unique approach to change the groundwater of racial prejudice in America, and the forces that rendered Vegetable Soup short-lived while other children’s programming thrived for decades.

A Noble Experiment is based on recently published research by Jeffrey S. Reznick, PhD, and is told through the voices of those who brought Vegetable Soup to life. Their first-hand accounts reveal that Vegetable Soup’s triumphs and failures are more relevant in today’s turbulent racial and political landscape than ever. Visually, the film interleaves newly digitized broadcast masters of the program with beautifully filmed interviews of its creators to reintroduce Vegetable Soup in the digital age. A Noble Experiment is both a celebration of a vision for a better America and a cautionary tale of our country’s cycle of racial awakening and return to status quo complacency.