The Power Rangers Movie’s Extraordinary Approach to Diversity

The Power Rangers movie tackled diversity in a way that went beyond just race and gender. We spoke with the folks involved about it.

Power Rangers has always been known for its diversity. Since the first episode aired in 1993 the franchise has featured a wide variety of ethnicities and backgrounds. The new movie continued that tradition but took it to the next level.

The character of Billy confirms that he’s “on the spectrum,” Trini doesn’t want to label her sexuality, and several of the Rangers live in single parent homes. To have all of that on top of an already diverse cast is huge not just for Power Rangers but blockbuster films in general. 

Billy’s character being on the spectrum is never played as a joke in the movie. It’s simply something he tells Jason about at the start of their friendship and is treated as just one part of the loveable tech genius’ character, rather than his sole defining element.

RJ Cyler, who plays Billy, is enthused by getting to represent so many people on the spectrum, a group he says is largely misunderstood. While RJ isn’t on the spectrum he does have people close to him who are.

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“Their brains work just like us, even faster sometimes,” he told me. “My friend Andre used to catch thing so quickly. Nobody knew that was happening but Andre could catch that because that’s just how his mind works.”

Billy being on the spectrum is an even bigger deal when you remember that he’s a person of color on the spectrum that isn’t played as a stereotype. RJ says this was down to not playing the spectrum as a characteristic. “It’s just like, say, having a pack of gum in your pocket,” Cyler says. “It doesn’t slow you down. It doesn’t change the situation in any way; it’s just a mind thinking. He’s still just a human being. He’s just a boy on the spectrum.”

That normalcy to the diverse characters in the film really came across with Zack, the Black Ranger. Played by Ludi Lin, Zack is a cool, sexy, flirty, yet insecure guy. Without a doubt, Zack is the sex symbol of the movie. This isn’t typical for Asian actors in Hollywood. “I feel like Asians have been painted as a caricature in western media and they’ve been emasculated,” Lin explains. “When I was at a charity event and the speaker was talking about a summer camp for disadvantaged Asian children. They didn’t feel like they could be attractive to the opposite sex, the same sex, whatever sex they’re attracted to. That’s such an essential part of being a human being.”

Lin is ecstatic that with this role he can show that anyone can be themselves and still be attractive. He also adds that he was glad Zack didn’t have to show off his muscles to do it, “I wanted people to really love who he is without just seeing him as a body as well,” although he quickly adds, “(Zack) does have a great body by the way.”

A total unexpected point of diversity comes into the film towards the middle, when the Rangers are all talking about their inner struggles. The Rangers really try to pry what’s going on with Trini out of her and when the exchange happens, it’s tear jerking. Her parents don’t accept her for who she is or how she dresses. The Rangers press on this and they ask if she’s having any boyfriend problems.

On that question, Trini laughs and simply says, “Yeah, boyfriend problems.” It’s clear she’s not having boyfriend problems.

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Zack tentatively asks her if she’s having girlfriend troubles. Unlike the previous question, she doesn’t directly respond. While Trini never identifies herself as LGBT (or any other sexuality), director Dean Israelite does confirm, “she has a lot of questions about her identity and I think she hasn’t figured them all out yet.”

Throughout the rest the movie however, Israelite believes Trini realizes that, “it’s okay. She will have a place to belong.” 

Some fans may question why Trini doesn’t label herself, but Israelite says, “she’s talking about her identity in a very profound way, almost not wanting to label it. I think that’s very modern and very relatable.”

Becky G, who plays Trini, agreed with this in an interview with Access Hollywood.

“This is taking place in 2017 with real life issues that we deal with. To play that was truly an honor. We get to play, on camera, a reflection of the audience watching this.” 

The fact Trini is also a woman of color is also huge for fans, as artist and cosplayer Howl Machine tells us, “Having Trini be Latina means a lot to me because she was my favorite growing up. I love (the diversity). Underneath that helmet anyone can be a Power Ranger. That’s the big message. Friendship! Save the world!”

The film also portrays more realistic family situations. Trini has a rocky relationship with her parents, Billy has lost his father, and Zack takes care of his ailing mother. That plotline resonated with Ludi Lin, who saw a lot of similarities in his family. 

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“My mom’s a heroine to me. She sacrificed a lot for me,” Lin says. “There’s a generation in China, we call them the sacrificial generation, because that generation was trying to emigrate from China. They’d leave their whole lives behind and it was all for the next generation. A lot of people worked themselves to death to prepare the future for the next generation. To bring that to the screen and tell that part of the story means a lot to me.”

Cyler adds that Hollywood stereotypes families too much and that everyone has a different parental situation. “Someone has one parent. Some have both. Some people have three or four parents. You live your life and have fun.”

Writer John Gatins, who points to The Breakfast Club as one of his main inspirations for the movie, says much of the diversity of the characters came about by asking himself, “What do you think the issues of those (Breakfast Club) kids would be today?” He goes on to add,

“We wanted to be very current and kind of reflect teenagers of today and make them go, ‘I see myself.’ That felt important to us.”

Lin is happy that Hollywood is starting to include more diversity and he hopes that everyone watching the Power Rangers movie will embrace its diversity and want more of it.

Becky G is glad that this film reflects her generation and that, “just like back then people watched Power Rangers and went, ‘that could be me!’ we get to be that for our generation.”

Cyler reasons that the kind of diversity seen in the movie and in the series is why Power Rangers has been so successful. “It resonates a lot with everybody,” he explains. “Just because you look this way doesn’t mean you act this way. There’s no such way as the right way to look or the right way to be. We’re all normal. We all have shortcomings. We all don’t understand certain things but we’re all people and we’re beautiful.”

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Shamus Kelley teared up when Trini’s sexuality was discussed. Follow him on Twitter!