Alex Yarde was a comic book-loving Black kid from the Bronx who had trouble finding a superhero who looked like him. Now his daughter is in the same conundrum.
As a boy I used to race home to watch Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. A cheesy Japanese TV show that Saban entertainment imported to the US, it was originally two shows that they spiced together—and it showed. When Earth was threatened by alien invaders, these “teenagers with attitude” morphed into powerful superheroes that fought evil using martial arts. Every episode was wrapped around a teen issue like peer pressure, teamwork, or personal struggles and fears. It was a hit, and spawned a franchise that to this day is loved by millions of adults and their kids.
The Power Rangers typically are a five member team made up of the Red, Blue, Green, Yellow and Pink Rangers. In the twenty plus incarnations of the Team one thing is always readily apparent—the Red Ranger is the leader of the Power Rangers. And he is ALWAYS a he. The Pink and Yellow Rangers are always girls but they never are in command. They fight side-by-side with the boys but never are as “cool,” and they seem to be the ones needing to be rescued most of the time.
When I was a child, I saw myself as the Red Ranger. Sure he was a white guy, but he was a guy. As a superhero-loving, comic book-reading Black kid growing up in the Bronx in the 1970s, finding a lead superhero that looked like me was a challenge. At that time, African American superheroes were always sidekicks (The Falcon) or relatively pathetic (Black Vulcan – basically a one trick pony).
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers struggled with racial issues. When they first tried to diversify, they cast an Asian girl as the Yellow Ranger and a Black boy as the Black Ranger. Eventually, they cleaned it up and even had an African American Red Ranger. The team could still be more representative and culturally sensitive, but they also need to break the “glass ceiling” and let a girl be the Red Ranger.
Today, my daughter struggles to find superheroes that look like her. The super heroines available for her consumption are usually sidekicks that are less powerful versions of their male counterparts—I’m talking about you Supergirl. Or, worse than that, they are fetishes. My 3 1/2 year old daughter will not wear the Wonder Woman pjs we got for her because, in her words, “She looks like she’s wearing underwear.” In contrast, the Power Rangers (more or less) have the same powers and skill sets. Their costumes are fairly gender-neutral and not revealing. The girls on the Team are almost equals to the boys.
The glass ceiling holding the female Rangers back is a bit too nuanced for my daughter to see right now, but it bothers me. I want her to see that a girl can be the Pink Ranger or the Blue Ranger or even the Red Ranger because her gender is not limited. I want my girl to see herself leading the Power Rangers into battle protecting the universe. In imagining herself as powerful, I hope she will find power in herself.
Maybe someday the Power Rangers will even one day be led by a black, female Red Ranger! What an amazing thing that would be for my kids to see.