This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
I was 4 years old when Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was on TV for the first time and, quite possibly because my much older brother was a big fan, I loved it too. In my young, naïve mind I didn’t focus on much beyond the cool fights and cheesy fun, but I do remember appreciating that there were girls on the team.
Because those girls existed, I was able to have my own Pink Ranger figure as well as a blue or a red. I don’t honestly remember what the gender politics were like in the original series, but it hardly mattered. My love of it extended far beyond watching the show. It was an enjoyment that predated my true fangirl heart but, in all honesty, playing with those action figures and making up those stories probably shaped me more than I realize.
My brother and I could play in that world without restrictions other than those that we invented for ourselves.
In short, a female presence in an ensemble action show aimed at young kids is important. More than that, the original Power Rangers made an effort to treat the Pink and Yellow Rangers the same as the others at a time when they could have gotten away with doing a lot less. It’s well known that the Yellow Ranger was changed from a male to a female character when translated to American television, for example.
So this week we were treated to our first look at the new costumes for 2017’s reboot of the franchise. It all looks less camp than the original, with far less spandex, and there’s some interesting embellishments on the suits of both the Pink and the Yellow Rangers. Suffice to say, it didn’t go down well.
Hollywood is a creature of habit. It sees something successful and does the same thing again. It’s the way it’s always worked, to an extent, and unfortunately that has resulted in a frustrating trend. Female action heroes are consistently treated differently in the marketing for modern blockbusters. The Power Rangers reboot is but the most recent example, and it will surely be usurped in a week’s time by something equally inevitable and annoying.
So what’s wrong with it, exactly? All of the old favorites are there – Yellow, Black, Red, Pink, and Blue – but there’s something strange about what we’re seeing. When the image was unveiled late on Thursday, Twitter suddenly erupted in a chorus of “BOOB ARMOR!”
And then something slightly unprecedented happened.
This has been an issue for a long while and, with every perpetuation of that problem, a small rumbling of unrest gets slightly bigger. Not this time, though. As many comments I personally saw float past my Twitter feed (from men and women alike) were as pleasantly surprised by the amount of backlash as they were about the costumes themselves.
It all matches up quite nicely with the glimpse at similarly-armored Rita Repulsa, whose been given a sexy makeover for no reason whatsoever. Bottom line – this shouldn’t be a thing we’re debating when it comes to a Power Rangers film. This is a thing made for kids to enjoy.
Usually, people hitting out at production stills from reboots of their favorite childhood properties centers around things like unpopular casting or slight changes from the established canon. The Batfleck episode, for example, or an all-female Ghostbusters. This time, it’s about something that goes far beyond Power Rangers. This is about how women continue to be treated on-screen, and how it has to stop.
The fact we’re looking at a movie that marks out its heroines as different, donning them in impractical costumes and wedge heels just to establish their gender is a very bad thing. Even if it doesn’t end up being the case, the heels imply that they won’t be as effective fighters as their male counterparts. That this is a regression from what we had 23 years ago is frankly embarrassing.
We’re living in a world where toy manufacturers replace Black Widow with Captain America in her own scene from the movie, and Rey – the undisputed star of Star Wars: The Force Awakens – is cut out of merchandise in favour of random Stormtroopers. The #WheresRay social media movement took off for a reason, after all.
Growing up now, four-year-old me would have to try really hard to find a Black Widow or Scarlet Witch to play with. Young fans of the biggest movies around would probably make do with another toy, and that’s fine, but the fact is that those characters are in the movies and kids should be allowed the choice. That choice should not be limited to Power Rangers with stuck on breasts and high heels.
The fun children have with these things we all love should not be dictated by backwards stereotypes or short-sighted marketing data that shows ‘girl toys’ don’t sell to boys and vice versa.
To add insult to injury, we have to see posters for those films in which the female characters are pushed right to the back, posed suggestively with their backsides to the camera and generally diminished when compared to their co-stars. Even supposed female-friendly franchises like Divergent fall into this trap.
It’s all designed to simultaneously objectify them and mark them as “other,” whether intentionally or not. So to see a Power Rangers reboot take that same stance, putting it’s female characters in needlessly suggestive costumes and impractical footwear, is disheartening.
It’s true that the original series had the Pink Ranger don a little skirt, but it never stopped her from fighting. Supergirl wears a skirt, too, but it’s not impractical. Really, I’d point to currently-airing comic book shows for really good examples of updated superhero costuming, from Black Canary on Arrow to the various agents on Agents of SHIELD. Being feminine isn’t the problem, but there’s nothing feminine about boob armor.
Playing devil’s advocate, it’s important to remember that we’ve only seen one image from the rebooted costumes, and it’s a project that already deserves a lot of credit for, among other things, its diverse casting. But everything it’s got going for it make this reveal all the more sad, because it’s a seemingly small error in judgment that grabs all of the attention from other, more positive, things.
So, no, the costumes aren’t everything, but they do matter. Power Rangers of all things should be able to be enjoyed by anyone, no matter who they are and, if that one image is a sign of deeper problems, that might not end up being the case.