Growing up in the ’90s, I was completely obsessed with the “Power Rangers” TV show like many of my peers were. To show you how far my fandom goes, one of my first crushes was on the Pink Ranger and one of my first Halloween outfits was dressing up as The Red Ranger when I was 6. This is why, when I heard the news they were coming out with a brand new Power Rangers movie, I was very intrigued to say the least.
At first I wasn’t necessarily sure how to feel about it. Most people I talked to before going into the film have critiqued it, asking why an autistic actor wasn’t cast in the role. Others I’ve talked to wish the Power Ranger was a female character on the spectrum based on the lack of female characters with autism in our entertainment industry.
While I agree that we do need more autistic actors in entertainment today and the need for more female characters on the autism spectrum, my overall review of this Power Ranger with autism was positive.
RJ Cyler, who plays Billy AKA The Blue Ranger, did his homework and was one of the standout characters for me in this film. From the earliest moments of the film, we learn that Billy is on the spectrum when he confesses to Jason AKA The Red Ranger. One moment in particular that touched me during this dialogue was Billy telling Jason, when sharing about his autism diagnosis, that “my brain doesn’t work like yours.” Jason responds, “That’s not a bad thing.”
Often in our community this is a common expression of how those on the spectrum feel. I know that’s how I felt growing up, and in my opinion, the moment was expressed with a lot of class. While our brains may be wired differently, we all have a longing to connect with others in some way. It may not be obvious at times, but Billy’s wanting for friends is something that resonated with me as someone who grew up being limited in my social abilities.
Throughout the rest of the film I recognized more signs of Billy’s autism diagnosis, from the need to have everything lined up (his pencils on his desk) to feeling uncomfortable being touched by others. Billy also has a very good mind for numbers and was able to indicate different dates and times certain situations happened. At times it felt like his character may have fallen into the “Rain Man” stereotype, however, I didn’t believe it was stressed upon to a point where it felt like too much.
Mainly, Billy’s role was refreshing as he reminded me of several of my mentees who are on the autism spectrum. These individuals are loyal and often honest to a fault. While I applaud the film for giving us one of the first superheroes with autism to be portrayed in film (as many people with autism at times connect autism as their “superpower”), I hope this spotlight will give us the opportunity to discuss the entire spectrum of autism.
As an autism film consultant, I’ve worked on two films with two autistic characters. One of them was the 2011 film “Joyful Noise” where Queen Latifah’s character in the film has a son with Asperger’s syndrome. He knows a great deal about music and is also very bright.
The other film I consulted for was the 2015 film ‘Jane Wants A Boyfriend‘
featuring a woman character with autism who’s trying to find her first relationship. She has a knack for costume design.
While I believe these roles are terrific, I also believe we need to make sure the stories of more autistic individuals and families are being told as well. As for the new Power Rangers movie, I recommend it to not only the autism community but also anyone who is a fan of solid action movies. As they talk about the potential of making sequels, now I’m excited to see how they may be able to develop Billy’s character to discuss even more of strengths and challenges as someone
on the spectrum. I know I’ll be part of that group going to the theaters to see it.