Celebrating Netflix’s new feature film release, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always
BY ALANNA REID
It was Christmas 1995 and I was visiting Father Christmas in a department store somewhere in Sussex. I looked the old guy straight in the eye and told him exactly, in no uncertain terms, what I wanted for Christmas; the Red Power Ranger outfit. Presenting as a young girl at the time, old St. Nick looked at me and frowned; “but you’re a girl, surely you want to be the Pink Ranger?”. I visibly recoiled in front of him; “The Pink Ranger has a skirt. I don’t like skirts”.
He tried again, “Well then, what about the Yellow Ranger?”
I was truly and completely confused. Was the old man colorblind?
“No,” convention started to tell me, “only boys can be the Red Ranger. You are not a boy.”
I had to agree to the Yellow Ranger that day, mostly because there was a queue forming and I was a pretty dutiful kid. Yet, as we left the grotto to browse the rest of the department store, a great cold void of disappointment and sadness started to curl itself round into my stomach; a beast that would continue to grow and dominate my life for another 23 years.
The Santa Clause 95’ fiasco marked the first time in my accessible memory where I can remember a moment where my biological sex restricted my perception of my gender. Prior to that day, I spent the early years of my childhood skipping over and beyond the gender binaries, inspired entirely by the adventures of six ordinary teenagers.
The first episode of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series aired in 1993. Based on the Japanese series Super Sentai, the show followed the adventures of Jason (Red), Billy (Blue), Zack (Black), Tommy (Green/White), Kimberly (Pink) and Trini (Yellow). Each week the team of teenagers-turned-superheroes worked together to protect earth from the evil forces of Rita Repulsa, then evil Lord Zep, then a man made from ooze, and on and on it went…
From the moment little six-year-old me saw the jumping, kung fu fighting, dinosaur empowered, color cladded heroes, my world was never the same. Over the 100 or so episodes of the original three Mighty Morphin series, airing on GMTV each Saturday morning, my obsession grew. I had the VHS, the books, a billion collector’s cards and oh yes, action figures galore.
Looking back, I understand that The Power Rangers phenomenon enabled me to access my queer identity almost three decades before I knew I had one. Yes, on the surface, there were several obvious errors within the aesthetic and narratives of the show that played into gender and racial stereotypes present in the 90s. Yet, the subversive queer power of the show hung on the magic of those colorful suits. The moment we heard “It’s Morphin’ time!” and each slipped into their superhero alter egos, suited in bright, mesmorising primaries, all else faded.
Underneath that helmet, donned in your chosen colour, for a generation of boys wanting to try on the hyper flexibility of the Pink Ranger or, like me, the AFAB enbies who ached for me the leadership responsibilities and core strength of the Red Ranger, all sense of gender was lost. This was a freedom seldom offered to gender non-conforming queers growing up during the 90s.
This all changed for me after my Santa experience. At the age of 13, the “childish” ways of The Power Rangers behind me, I fell into a world of conservative Christianity which would force me into a mold of sexual and gender conformity so severe and unyielding that it would take me 17 more years to come out as gay and another three as non-binary.
It was at the age of 29, beginning the journey into my second adolescence in re-discovering my queer self; I wondered what character I should come as for my superhero themed 30th birthday. There was only one.
As I squeezed into that Red Ranger Power suit, the connection with my eight-year-old self was re-established. I realised, with a mixture of regret but growing elation, that I was right all along; I could be anyone I wanted to be.
Sitting down to watch the Once & Always feature film, I hadn’t quite prepared myself for the range of emotions I would feel. Of course, I had absolutely no idea where the arc of the show had gone in the past 30 years and the plot lines seemed much more solid when I was eight. Yet, as the familiar faces of David Yost (Billy), Walter Jones (Zack) appeared in the first three minutes of the intro my arms were riddled with goose bumps. Over the 55m run time, drawn back into the world of Angel Grove, Alpha (10?), the Morphin grid, and of course, the show’s dopamine inducing theme tune, I found I had started to cry.
Was this due to the never-ending barrage of simply awful pre-fight puns? Partially. But, mostly, I cried because I was experiencing something of a full circle connection; a realisation that the person sitting here on the couch in their 30s had finally become who they knew themselves to be when they were eight. We’d taken the long way round for sure but, as Billy offers at the closing credits, “Once a Ranger, always a Ranger”.
Happy 30th birthday Power Rangers. Thank you for helping a generation of queers see a future beyond the restrictions of their present and, for this Red Ranger in particular, for helping them find a way back.
Oh, and to that Father Christmas in the department store – I don’t think you’re actually the real deal. The real Santa got me the Red Ranger suit after all…
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