By Leigh Monson
Power Rangers is not a very good movie. Woah, woah, put down your pitchforks Rangers fans, you're totally allowed to like it, but I think it's a film much more likely to appeal to adult fans of the franchise than it is to bring in younger fans or convert anyone who's simply interested in an action-adventure flick. However, there are some noteworthy steps that this iteration of Power Rangers took with regard to representation, particularly in alluding to the idea that Trini, the yellow ranger, is not a straight character. But what does that actually mean within the context of the story, and does that portrayal come across as a positive one?
There are two points of contention when it comes to Trini's representation as a queer character. First, the context in which her sexuality is revealed is potentially disconcerting. This version of the teenagers with attitude reimagines the rangers as juvenile delinquents with varying degrees of rebelliousness and troubling home circumstances, but to one extent or another, the red, pink, and black rangers are all some sort of supposedly likeable jerk archetype. Only Billy, the blue ranger, and Trini are different, apparently due to their autism and queerness, respectively. This creates a weird dynamic where, at least thematically, characters are treated as outcasts in league with the "bad kids" by virtue of innate characteristics that aren't negative.
But really, is that unusual to see in real life? Particularly when it comes to high school students, do not many schools and parents treat queer kids as pariahs, worthy of punishment for their simple existence as non-heterosexual? And is it not reasonable, then, to assume that those kids, otherwise abandoned by systems of support that their peers would enjoy, would fall in with folks who had actually done some bad things? Now, this isn't to say that the jerkier characters in Power Rangers aren't without their redeeming qualities, but the implication is that queer kids are punished for their very existence as opposed to having actually doing anything harmful. As problematic as this grouping together might seem on the surface, there may be a degree of realism underneath that false equivalency.
The second issue is whether Trini actually is even a queer character. Most of Trini's characterization is as a loner who refuses to communicate with her family, who don't seem to trust her for any reason that is clearly elucidated. The only time the issue of Trini's sexuality is ever brought up is when, during a soul-bearing campside bit of character-building, Trini is asked if she has boyfriend troubles. When she doesn't answer, she is then asked if she has girlfriend troubles. Then, without answering the question, she begins a monologue about how her family doesn't understand her and how she feels trapped within her circumstances.
Now, this can easily be chalked up to sloppy or purposely evasive writing, but this is also a reflection of how growing up queer can be for many teens. Trini may not even know what her sexual identity is yet, as she has never had the opportunity in the small community of Angel Grove to explore that aspect of herself. Questioning can be a lifelong process, but it can be especially prominent in teenagers, particularly when they lack support systems to facilitate that exploration.
So where do I fall on the positivity of Trini's queer representation? Well, it's hard to definitively say, seeing as the character is a just shallow enough archetype to really function either way depending on what an audience member projects onto her. That being said, though, I saw a lot of myself in Trini, and related to her loneliness and lack of any appreciable outlet during a dark and confusing time of her life. For those unfamiliar with the queer experience, she may appear to just be riddled with angst, but I found her to be the character I gravitated toward the most, even as I recognized the shortcomings of her underwritten persona. Maybe as a queer person I'm just used to taking what I can get from the meager picking of popular cinema, but for what it's worth, I think you could do a lot worse than Power Rangers in representing non-heteronormative youth.
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