Power Rangers: A Tainted Childhood Memory
Looking back at what defined the African-American Ranger
“Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” (or MMPR), the ’90s series about super-powered teenagers and my favorite show as a child, has gotten its share of retrospective criticism for its management of race. Most popularly, its costume choices for the Rangers in the first season have raised some eyebrows, particularly based on which colors were assigned to the Asian and African-American characters:
While Jones has hesitated to call the costume choices racially insensitive, he has acknowledged that race was a factor in casting the Black Ranger, although not necessarily for the reason commonly assumed. Jones was apparently told by higher-ups that in the Japanese show MMPR is based on, the Red and Black Rangers were best friends. In the new series, they wanted to recreate that relationship specifically with a white lead and an African-American pal in the same roles–not exactly an exoneration from accusations of racism.
In all honesty, anyone could have a field day with other social issues this show tripped over in its beginnings, like the Pink Ranger suit’s crass insistence on gender norms or the homophobic bullying of the actor who played the Blue Ranger. But as a black kid growing up with the show, the depiction of Zack was what left the deepest impression on me. Even without a concrete idea of black stereotypes at the time, something stuck out about the first time I saw Zack fight:
The Black Ranger was quick to use his gift for dance in several situations, but they oddly weren’t limited to social ones. Even when fighting for his life, Zack would integrate hip hop moves into his martial arts, repeatedly associating blackness with boogie ability.
Taking offense as an adult isn’t due to some PC attempt to stigmatize any display of black characters enjoying or even excelling at dancing. I take pride in the innovations and celebrations of dance that African-Americans have pioneered, and I have no qualms admitting that I happen to be a black man who loves to dance. But the Black Ranger’s urge to do so in instances of life and death smacks of caricature and defines the character by the generalizations made about his race. The fact that this dehumanizing stereotype was attributed to Zack so openly and so often on children’s programming is an appalling shame.
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