Movies and TV
The Contradiction of April O'Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Nick Hurwitch | 8 Aug 2014 19:00
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teenage mutant ninja turtles cartoon 1987 april

During the much-advertised action set piece down a snowy mountain, April has to lean out the window to grab a something or release another. Arnett's Vernon Fenwick warns her of the danger until realizing the perfect view of her ass that her position has afforded him. He changes his tune. It's the only time Liebesman ogles -- unlike Bay, who managed to make an object out of every woman to enter frame -- but he ogles nonetheless.

Almost.

The near-miss got me thinking. I've always assumed April O'Neil was a Strong Female Character -- strike that. Let me rephrase: I've been a fan of Donnie, Raph, Mikey and Leo and therefore April since long before I had ever heard the phrase "Strong Female Character" or understood its meaning. Surely she was one, though, right? Even from a young age I recognized her innate value: She didn't take no for an answer. She got up in the face of the chief of police. She could hang with the guys. She loved pizza. Hell, as a wayward journalism major in the making, Young Boy me was probably more influenced by her than I realized, regardless of gender.

The truth is that no TMNT fan older than 25 exists without being refracted through the rosy red lens of nostalgia. I knew of April, of course, and had the basics of her character implanted deep within my brain, but it occurred to me that I didn't actually know her as a character from an objective, adult perspective anywhere better than the Megan Fox incarnation I had just witnessed.

Was April O'Neil a Strong Female Character? It was time to access the archives.

Though she is certainly a character, is undoubtedly female, and is intermittently strong, the history of April O'Neil reveals that she's never been written in a way that puts the whole package together (until very recently, as it turns out).

In the original comic, she's a scientist and research assistant to Baxter Stockman, arguably her brainiest incarnation. Of course, after realizing Stockman's evil intentions, he tries to kill her with his Mousers and the turtles save her immediately. She requires periodic rescuing from there out, but at least goes on to train under Master Splinter (though she also turns out to be her father's drawing brought to life -- shit gets weird in the comics).

The original cartoon introduced the primary contradiction of Ms. O'Neil: at once a woman bold enough to stick her nose in dangerous business, and a woman who needs saving at a rate of once per episode. Her yellow jumpsuit, at least, I'm told is gender neutral.

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