Power Rangers Makes A Case For "Political Correctness"
People sure have a lot of things to say about political correctness these days, huh? "Forced diversity." "PC agenda." "Surely I have the right to remove millions of an inferior race that breeds like vermin." That last one is from the hip, happening YouTube star JonTron!
Point is, there seems to be some contention among two subsets of people, because things apparently can't be more complex than binaristic modes of debates. One "side" argues for more diversity, more inclusivity, more sensitivity. The other "side" argues for, well, the opposite of those things. Point is, putting a black person or a gay person in your movie is now a political statement, apparently, because that's just where we're at.
Following that logic, then, one could maybe see Power Rangers as a political film. And if we were to consider it as one, then it seems to be making a pretty big case for a "PC agenda." Look, I'll be honest - I don't have much here aside from a nice, clickbait-y title, but let's take a crack at it anyway!
"I'm on the spectrum," Billy Cranston tells Jason Scott early on in Power Rangers. Scott smirks and cracks, "what is that, some kind of fitness program?" What follows is a brief but poignant talk between the two teens about autism, something that sounds like a rough approximation of how human teenagers talk - a rarity in movies about teenagers.
This conversation, between a disgraced white quarterback and a persecuted black nerd, strikes the tone for a good portion of the movie. Like always, this team of Power Rangers is a group of racially diverse teens with 'tudes. But unlike past incarnations, those 'tudes feel less like stock character traits and based more in their different socioeconomic backgrounds. Their 'tudes are molded by being othered by their peers and their parents, as a result of their sexual orientations (in Trini's case) or their unwelcome push into maturity (in Zack's case.) They feel like real people, like people I've actually known in my life.
Let's contrast this to last year's big-budget movie about a superhero team - Captain America: Civil War. Now, full disclosure: I didn't actually dislike this movie. It wasn't a flaming pile of rotting, fetid garbage like Age of Ultron, and was easily the best MCU movie in a hot second. I even it bought it on Blu Ray because I thought it was worth owning. Yet when you look at the two teams of heroes on full display, they really don't feel like people. Each has a token stoic Russian redhead, a token wise-cracking black guy, and a whole cast of "charming" white guys. These mediocre white boy's (it's not "reverse racist" if I say it, as I too am a mediocre white boy) personalities feel based entirely in rote tropes - the "awkward one," the "noble one," the "rich one." We immediately recognize these tropes, because we've so many goddamn times, and because of this we're tricked into thinking they're actually nuanced characters. Yet for all of Tony Stark's dead daddy melodrama and Steve Rogers' old-school heroism schtick, the attempts at making these characters feel anywhere close to human fall flat.
"Now listen here, cuck," you might be smirking, "clearly they're supposed to feel like superheroes and not humans!" Actually, strawman I just made up, that's a fucking stupid argument. The best superheroes work because they actually feel like people. After Stan Lee came along and knocked some sense into the industry (with apologies to Ditko and Kirby,) comic books started to appeal to a wider audience because the heroes in their pages actually reflected the readers. You see this trend starting primarily in Spider-Man, a meek geek who finds his self-confidence after getting a radioactive spider-bite. It's a trend that's continued in the best comics and comic adaptations since then. Jessica Jones copes with PTSD from sexual assault at the hands of a pick-up artist, showing that even a superwoman can't outpunch rape culture. Luke Cage's bulletproof skin scares civilians, demonstrating that an invulnerable black man in a hoodie is the biggest fear of middle America. Fuck, even Deadpool is humanized through his attempts at coping with trauma through humor. These characters work because they feel like people, and they have crossover appeal between comic nerds and casual audiences because of that.
Applying that to Power Rangers, then, we see a roster of characters, male and female, who practically anyone can connect to. Unless you're one of those people who thinks Batman is an easy character to relate to, in which case, you're pretty much beyond help. Anyway, we have Jason - a white football player who has to come to grips with the fact that he's always encouraged to be angry. There's Billy, a black teen bullied for his autism and who's grown up with a dead father. Kimberly is a woman of color ostracized from her white peers for a Mean Girls level sexting stunt she pulled, and Trini is shunned from her parents for being bisexual.
Then we have Zack, who's my favorite character and the one I'm writing a whole paragraph about because fuck you. He's an obnoxious fuckhead who cracks jokes at the worst moments and who's quick to question authority. He makes rash actions based on his willingness to take risks, but only does this because he was forced into maturity way earlier than he would've liked to be. Behind his dumb jokes and prickly nature lies someone who feels lonely and doesn't fit in with his peers. Just writing this pithy little paragraph made me a bit emotional, because Jesus Christ, I relate to Zack so much. Sure, I'm very much not Chinese, so I can't connect on that level. But people not liking him because of his defiant personality? His willingness to make jokes at the expense of everyone's patience? His barely fitting into a team dynamic? If that's not me to a T, I'm not sure what else is. I've been an obnoxious fuckhead because of personal baggage for most of my life, and seeing that kind of representation onscreen in a way that feels organic really hits home.
|There's also another reason he's my favorite character. Three guesses to what it is!|
I would imagine, then, that I'm not alone in this. A queer teen whose parents don't get her, or a white guy trying to not be an angry mess like society encourages, or somebody on the spectrum whose idiosyncrasies are the root cause of being bullied... these sound like real people. The kinds of people that don't get to be superheroes in big-budget movies. The kinds of people that get a low-budget indie drama that loses the Oscar to Hollywood deep-throating its own cock again. A young kid growing up knowing that being on the spectrum doesn't make them weird, or a teen knowing that they can find friends who accept their queerness - that's something special. Something we don't see every day.
Power Rangers' greatest strength lies in its willingness to be diverse, to not rely on Whitey singing the blues as good characterization. It's a superhero movie, with all the spectacle and fun that comes with them, but with the superheroes in being question actual characters worth giving a fuck about. It's easy to become invested in them, and when they have brushes with death, the stakes feel real because the characters feel real. They're not confident, impervious figureheads who exist solely to punch people and sometimes feel bad about it, maybe. Beneath being superheroes, beneath being teens with 'tudes, they're human beings. A small smattering of human beings who represent the world in its complexity and diversity, not just at its whitest and manliest.
In this day and age, that's a political statement. And that's sad. It's sad that there are people angry that other races exist and want to maybe be in movies. It's sad that gay people existing and women wanting to be on an equal playing field is controversial. It's sad that grown-ass men, like one particular dude I sat near while watching this movie, are so bitter about their own lives that they find the need to cry about an autistic person and gay person in their Power Rangers is raping their childhood. As if gay people and people on the spectrum is tantamount to literal sexual assault.
|Craven raper of childhoods, Trini.|
What's not sad, though, is the audience of kids I saw during the first screening I went to (I've seen it two times already, with a third and fourth inevitably coming.) Kids of different ages, races and genders watching this movie, who seemed to be enjoying it a lot with their parents. Some of those kids might grow up and discover their own queerness, and know that they could still theoretically still be a Power Ranger. Some of those kids may be on the spectrum, and know that they can still kick ass. Some of those kids might be forced into maturity through the death of a parent, and grow up remembering that they don't have to be alone for their whole life, that some people will still understand them. Regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic background, what-the-fuck-ever, these kids will grow up knowing they can still be great. They don't have to be a billionaire playboy, a sexy Russian lady, or a cocky white guy to be superheroes.
Speaking as a lifelong comic dweeb, that's what superheroes are all about. Making kids feel like they can be anything. Power Rangers accomplishes this, and by proxy, is a better superhero film (in that respect) than anything Marvel or DC's put on the silver screen. Is it a perfect, glowing example of cinematic artistry? Pff, hell no. But it's a damn fun time, and one that succeeds from its willingness to share its spotlight with people of different races and creeds. It'll likely go down next to Kong: Skull Island and A Cure For Wellness as one of my favorite flicks of 2017.
Also, it has a giant robot suplexing a giant robot, and if you don't that's the raddest shit, you can get the fuck out of my house.