The Dark Story Behind Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

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The Dark Story Behind Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

VOICE OVER: Andrew Tejada WRITTEN BY: Cassondra Feltus
"Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" may have been made for kids, but that doesn't mean the story behind its creation isn't dark. For this video, we'll be looking at the grim behind-the-scenes details of the beloved '90s hit series. This essay will cover multiple unsettling facts about the beloved series, including low wages & poor working conditions and several controversies that have popped up over the years.
Transcript
"Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" may have been made for kids, but that doesn't mean the story behind its creation isn't dark. For this video, we’ll be looking at the grim behind-the-scenes details of the beloved ‘90s hit series. This essay will cover multiple unsettling facts about the beloved series, including low wages & poor working conditions and several controversies that have popped up over the years. Were you a fan of the Power Rangers? Who was your favorite? Go go let us know in the comments!

The Original Series (1993-95)

Back in the 1980s, music composer Haim Saban was watching TV in his Tokyo hotel room and came across the Japanese tokusatsu “Super Sentai” series. Seeing these color-coded superheroes facing off against monsters gave him the idea to create an Americanized version. After almost a decade of failed pilots and rejection, Saban, with the help of Fox’s then head of programming Margaret Loesch, finally launched “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” in 1993. The series followed five American teenagers, who were already skilled in gymnastics and martial arts, as they trained to become the titular group.

The original series starred Thuy Trang (Trini the Yellow Ranger), Austin St. John (Jason the Red Ranger), Amy Jo Johnson (Kimberly the Pink Ranger), Walter Emanuel Jones (Zack the Black Ranger), and David Yost (Billy the Blue Ranger). Later in the first season, Jason David Frank joined as the Green Ranger, who would become the White Ranger. Some of the young cast weren’t even actors, including St. John, who was a martial arts instructor. Since the actors’ faces were under helmets, Saban used footage from Toei’s “Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger” and other “Super Sentai” series for the fight scenes. However, the cast did perform some of their own stunts.

Overnight Success & Mighty Morphin Merchandise

The first episode of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” premiered August 28, 1993, on Fox Kids. It was an instant (and unexpected) hit, quickly becoming one of the highest-rated kids’ shows on broadcast television. Audiences loved these “teenagers with attitude” and their insane fighting skills, morphing into the colorful superheroes that defeated monsters and aliens every week. The theme song was pretty awesome, too.

With the massive popularity of the series, it wasn’t long before the merchandise was flying off the shelves. Toys, costumes, video games, comics, bedsheets, toothbrushes — Saban Entertainment and Bandai created a multi-billion dollar merchandising empire that would dominate the 1990s and beyond.

With all the hype surrounding the show came sudden fame for the young cast, something they had to adjust to fast. In 1994, the six cast members became ambassadors for the D.A.R.E. and made national news when an appearance at Universal Studios shut down Los Angeles traffic. A crowd of roughly 35,000 people attended the conference, with some camping outside for hours.

Low Wages & Poor Working Conditions

“Power Rangers” proved to be a lucrative venture for Saban and the higher-ups, but the cast quickly realized that they weren’t getting the pay they deserved. They worked long hours, sometimes 12-to-15-hour days, six days a week, and reportedly made about $600 a week (with zero residuals). The success of the show led to daily episodes instead of weekly, which increased the production schedule and took an even bigger toll on the cast and crew.

As an un-unionized show, and as actors without agents, there wasn’t anyone to advocate for better pay or improving poor working conditions. Amy Jo Johnson detailed a time when she and David Yost were almost injured in an on-set accident and revealed that she and Thuy Trang once had to work the morning after an earthquake.

The first actors to leave the show were Trang, Austin St. John, and Walter Emmanuel Jones. The three of them wanted to have a union and receive more compensation, but were turned down, and quickly replaced in the middle of the second season.

In 1994, Karan Ashley joined the cast as Aisha Campbell/Yellow Ranger, Johnny Yong Bosch as Adam Park/Black Ranger, and Steve Cardenas as Rocky DeSantos. The three newbies also starred in “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie,” which was released June 30, 1995.

Controversy Over the Years

Since its debut, the “Power Rangers” had their fair share of controversies. The show was banned in multiple countries for its “excessive” violence, including New Zealand and Canada. In 1994, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark pulled the show from the airwaves after the tragic death of a young girl at the hands of classmates, even though there was no direct connection between the two. Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines banned the word “morphin” from the title and anywhere in the series, fearing it was too close to “morphine” the drug.

Aside from censorship issues, “Power Rangers” garnered criticism for the racial coding of the Black Ranger being played by a Black man and the Yellow Ranger by an Asian-American woman. However, Jones says it was purely coincidental, and the first Yellow Ranger in the unaired pilot was played by Hispanic actress Audri Dubois.

Perhaps the darkest of the “MMPR” controversies is one that not many have discussed. It wasn’t until years after his time on the series that David Yost spoke out about the reason behind his departure. In 2010, Yost revealed in an interview that he was subjected to on-set harassment for his sexual orientation, and the crew regularly used homophobic slurs when talking about (and to) the actor. This mistreatment led to Yost suffering a nervous breakdown for which he had to be hospitalized.

Where Are They Now

Many of the OG Rangers continued to act, including Amy Jo Johnson who landed a role on J. J. Abrams’ “Felicity,” and went on to become a filmmaker and musician. Walter Emmanuel Jones also continued his acting career appearing in shows like “Moesha” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and later lending his voice to 2013’s “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.” David Yost left acting behind and became a producer whose body of work includes reality shows “​​Temptation Island” and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Jason David Frank’s Tommy Oliver remains a recurring character in the franchise, appearing in “Power Rangers Turbo,” “Power Rangers Dino Thunder,” and “Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel,” just to name a few. After exiting the show, Austin St. John returned to martial arts, but later went to college and spent time working as a paramedic in Washington, D.C. He also reprised his role as Jason in a few series like “Power Rangers Wild Force” and “Power Rangers Beast Morphers.” However, he’s recently made headlines with some legal troubles.

In 1996, Thuy Trang had a small part in “Spy Hard,” but starred as the villain Kali in “The Crow: City of Angels” that same year. Sadly, the actress died in a car accident in September 2001.

Johnson, Jones, Yost, Frank, and St. John make regular appearances around the convention circuit, often reuniting for events and interviews. In 2016, most of them joined former castmates Karan Ashley and David Fielding (Zordon) for an original film called “The Order.”

Legacy & Cultural Impact

“Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was a ‘90s phenomenon that continues to be one of the most successful media franchises in history. And despite the darker aspects of its history, the show inspired a generation of kids who are now adults and sharing it with their children. Life-long fans come to see their favorite Rangers at various conventions, including Power Morphicon.

The 2017 reboot “Power Rangers” may not have been a smash hit, but it was praised for an ethnically diverse cast, something which the franchise has long valued. Furthermore, the film’s version of Billy Cranston (played by RJ Cyler) is on the autism spectrum, and David Yost praised the film for featuring a queer superhero — Becky G’s Trini/Yellow Ranger. While a sequel never materialized, another reboot is in the works at Netflix.

Since 1993, there have been 29 seasons and over 900+ episodes in the “Power Rangers” canon, not counting television specials, direct-to-video productions, or the three movies. The franchise shows no signs of ending, much to fans’ delight.

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