The new Power Rangers movie has a female character, Trini, who is questioning her sexual orientation. While numerous media outlets have sensationalized their headlines, the fact is that the character’s much buzzed about sexuality is never labeled, and the entire conversation occurs within a single moment of the film. I think the superhero movie deserves major credit for its racial diversity (Trini is Latina) but as far gay inclusion, it doesn’t offer much more than a nod. So, what actually happens with Trini?
As it turns out, not much. At least not when it comes this topic. (Spoiler alert!) Basically, there is a scene where Trini’s presumed “boyfriend troubles” might actually be “girlfriend troubles.” When pressed, she says she doesn’t like labels and that’s the end of it. We are being told, however, that this is groundbreaking.
Director Dean Israelite called the scene “pivotal” to the entire movie. He told The Hollywood Reporter: “For Trini, really she’s questioning a lot about who she is. She hasn’t fully figured it out yet. I think what’s great about that scene and what that scene propels for the rest of the movie is, ‘That’s OK.’ The movie is saying, ‘That’s OK,’ and all of the kids have to own who they are and find their tribe.” The Hollywood Reporter goes on to laud the movie as “breaking down a barrier no superhero movie has before.”
While this is all great, on the other hand, the movie studio gets to sidestep any real commitment to portraying an actual gay character, since nothing is ever pinned down. When Trini is asked outright if she is gay, her reply is that she doesn’t like labels. Now, we do have to keep in mind that she’s young and it’s perfectly ok to still be sorting things out for as long as it takes. That’s a good message to send to kids, overall. Still, I also have to question the trend of suggesting gay and lesbian characters and dancing around the issue instead of just letting them be gay. After all, does Hollywood ever “hint” at a straight person being possibly heterosexual, but claiming to “dislike labels?” Not so much.
As an aside, the reason we need outspoken gay and lesbian characters in Hollywood films is to represent people who do indeed exist, labels and all. Gay marriage wasn’t fought for by “people who don’t like labels.” It was fought for by gay people who wanted to be able to marry same-sex partners. Labels are not inherently bad. They are often necessary.
It’s worth considering what the effect might have been If the character Trini had claimed an orientation. Lesbian, specifically, still seems to be a word that gets stigmatized on screen, and seeing it normalized would be refreshing. On the one hand, it’s helpful to show kids who are questioning their sexuality that it’s ok to question it – but then, well, then what? If I had been watching this film as a teenager, I would have held my breath at the moment Trini is asked THE QUESTION, and felt a pang of disappointment at her answer, because it doesn’t really mean anything. There is no big reveal. There is never a moment of truth. All we get is “I don’t like labels”. Where does that leave us?
This single, seemingly flippant moment is now getting far more credit than it deserves. While it’s great that Power Rangers did make a gesture to the LGBT community, the gesture was more like an afterthought, in line with the usual scraps we are constantly told to be grateful for. Meanwhile, in our current political climate, normalizing LGBT characters on screen has significant weight. Hopefully, this is merely a baby step toward better things to come.