It seems that a new racial status quo has been put in place on the ooze-covered streets of Manhattan, as for the second time in as many reboots, the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem animated film will feature another race-swapped verison of the Turtles’ most trusted ally, April O’Neil.
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Released on March 6th, the first trailer for Seth Rogen’s take on the ever-butt-kicking heroes opens with a short montage of various New York locales, including the Upper New York Bay skyline, the Manhattan Bridge, and an unspecified street view, before cutting to a still shot of a generic city manhole cover.
Amidst these establishing shots, a text crawl informs audiences that the film, “From permanent teenager Seth Rogen,” will see “a new generation of heroes will rise…straight from the sewer”.
Suddenly, the aforementioned manhole blows sky-high, a side-effect of the Turtles emerging in quick succession from their subterranean home.
Making their way to a nearby rooftop, the Turtles are then seen attempting to film a cell phone video of Raphael (Brady Noon, The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers) using Leonardo’s katanas to slice open a watermelon.
Upon successfully cutting it in half ala Metal Gear Rising: Revengance, Raphael proposes, “Let’s try that again, but with ninja stars!”
And while Donatello (Micah Abbey, Cousins for Life) and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr., The Chi) initially react to the idea with glee – Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu, The Walking Dead: World Beyond) can be seen behind them with a questioning look on his face – the latter is soon taken aback upon discovering that he would have to be the one to hold the target for his brother.
This prompts Mikey to sarcastically complain, “Hey, why don’t we take a fruit shaped exactly like my head?”
“Stop talking, you’re ruining my concentration!” chastises Raphael in turn, with Donatello adding “You’re fine! Chill!” before commenting under his breath “He’s gonna die.”
Proceeding to let loose his ninja star, Raphael successfully misses Mikey’s head and slices right through the melon – only for his weapon to overshoot, fly off the roof, and cause unseen chaos on the streets below.
In turn, Leonardo rushes past his brothers, frantically asking “Wait, did you hear that? What was that?”
The trailer then cuts to show the four brothers gazing down at the scene below with looks of fear and dread scrawled upon their faces, at which time Raph attempts to playfully exit stage left by suggesting “Well, nothing we can do! You guys wanna grab pizza…?
From there, the short preview cuts to present a second montage, this time of the film’s core cast including the titular turtles and their father, Master Splinter (Jackie Chan, The Lego Ninjago Movie):
A group of random thugs, one of whom questions “What the heck are those things?”, to which one of his partners quips back, “They look like little ‘Shreks’ to me.”:
The towering Bebop (Seth Rogen, Invincible) and Rocksteady (John Cena, Peacemaker), both of whom are shown grooving to tunes on their classic boombox:
And finally, a black-skinned, red-dreaded, and bespectacled April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri, The Bear):
As the trailer’s main video comes to a close, Leonardo can be heard saying “We’ve prepared our whole lives for this!” before ending on a slapstick-comedy scene wherein Raphael trips, drops his sais, and watches as they bounce around the room before ultimately ending its chaotic journey lodged inside of Donatello’s leg.
“Oh my God, I’m gonna be sick!” responds Leonardo as his brother proceeds to shriek and scream.
“Leo, what happened, is Donnie bleeding?!” Mikey inquires, only to be met with a panicked screech of “IT’S STILL IN MY LEG!” from Donatello and a warning of “Mikey, watch out!” from Leonardo as a flying canister of gas makes its way in their direction.
Finally, the trailer concludes proper with an end stinger featuring April O’Neil, who appears to be depicted as more short and stout than any of her previous incarnations, attempting to take notes regarding the Turtles’ origins.
“So, you were baby turtles who made contact with mystery goo…” she recaps to her new friends, only for them to interrupt with Marvel-esque ad-lib banter regarding their preference for the term “ooze”.
“It’s just like…it rolls off the tongue better, yeah…oooooze….ooooze….it’s nice right?” the four brothers collectively reply, each one talking over the other.
As noted above, Mutant Mayhem’s race-swapping of April the second time in recent years that the intrepid reporter’s character has undergone such a revision.
In the Turtles’ 2018-2020 animated outing for Nickeldoeon, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, April was similarly reimagined as a teenaged, quick-to-quip black girl (though rather than a reporter, this version was portrayed as a fighter on par with the Turtles themselves).
Notably, though many defenders of April’s race-swapping in both Rise and Mutant Mayhem’s have long attempted to claim that she was initially depicted as black in Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, this is nothing more than a misconception that has taken on a life of its own.
Making her public debut in the second issue of the franchise’s flagship title, April was originally depicted with straight hair and a fairly light complexion – especially compared to that of actual, confirmed black character Dr. Baxter Stockman, who was depicted by Laird with an explicitly dark skin tone.
Then, two issues later, April would undergo a slight makeover, suddenly deciding to get her hair permed – as was a widely popular fashion choice during the 1980s.
This change, combined with the black-and-white nature of the book’s art, led many to misinterpret the Turtles’ long-time friend as a black woman.
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However, as the years went on and trends changed, 1989 would ultimately see April return to her original straight hair-style in the series’ 28th issue.
A favorite citation regularly raised by those who believe April was originally intended to black is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1 #32 “Egyptian Adventure”, as in the second printing of the issue, she was explicitly depicted as black woman.
Yet, what many do not realize is that this issue was not produced by the Turtles’ creators, but rather by underground comic artist Mark Bodé.
Produced during a period when Mirage was allowing other creators to play with Eastman and Laird’s toys, the stories published as part of this idea (Issues #22 – #44) are considered non-canon.
Further, this mistake was corrected long ago, and all subsequent reprints of the story have consistently portrayed April with white skin.
Yet, perhaps the strongest evidence against April being originally intended as a black character is that her creators have long and regularly denying that she was conceived as such.
In his 2002 series retrospective, Eastman noted that April was “originally created as an Asian character in Pete [Laird]’s notes, but named after an African American woman I once knew, the character of April O’Neil was introduced in issue #2 and would have a bunch of different ‘looks throughout the TMNT history’.”
Asked by a fan for clarification on the subject in 2009, Laird would speculate that the answer of April’s race “depends on which co-creator of the TMNT you ask.”
“If you ask me, I always saw April O’Neil as white,” he said. “If you ask Kevin, I suspect he would say — as he has in a number of interviews — that she was of mixed race, much like his former girlfriend (then wife, then ex-wife) April.”
And in 2013, after once again being approached about the topic on his personal blog, Laird would reaffirm that he “has always imagined her as white, and very likely of Irish/Scottish/English ancestry.”
“Kevin may have had a different view, and I can’t speak for him, but that’s the way I always saw her,” he explained. “As for the coloring of her skin in the color reprints of the Mirage comics [referring to the discussion surrounding the above Issue #32], Kevin always had a lot more input on that end of our business than I did, and in fact I’m pretty sure he did the colors on the initial such reprinting from First Comics, the one in graphic novel form. Make of that what you will.”
Ultimately, though the two appear to be entirely unsure of just what exact inspirations the other looked to when creating April, it seems they both agree that she was a white character whose name and appearance took some cues from Eastman’s late first wife, April Fisher.
Of course, April’s new racial identity comes as no surprise given that the film’s creator, Rogen, outright declared that he was attempting to help diversify the Hollywood machine by “just actively trying to make less things starring white people.”
“And if I’m succeeding or I’m not, I’m very much looking to have a far more diverse group of writers and directors and actors that we generally work with, because that group is not incredibly diverse, you know?” he told Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt in August 2020. “So that’s how I’ve been trying to deal with it, is just to actively take as they would say, anti-racist measures to assure that some work is doing done to acknowledge that Black people are very marginalized in American society.”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem flips into theaters on August 4th, 2023.
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