‘Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Got a Black April O’Neil, Y’all

April! You lookin' good, sis.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the cartoon equivalent of Power Rangers. Just when you think it’s their last year of beating up bad guys, their corporate kingpin drags them into his office by their multi-colored getups and gently reminds them the only way out of this life is in a Funko box.

This week, Nickelodeon revealed new character designs for the Homies In A Half-Shell who are coming back to put that ninjutsu work in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Off jump we see Raphael is drawn much larger than his brothers, and that he’s traded in his sais for a pair of tonfas. But wait…

The squad is back – and this time they got magic on their side.

Who is that girl riding atop Donatello on what looks to be a backpack/hover scooter? Yellow jacket? Glasses? April?

Yes, folks, it appears that April O’Neil has been redesigned as an energetic young black girl voiced by Kat Graham from The Vampire Diaries. For those that don’t know, April was originally designed as a young woman with darker skin and brown hair. Though it doesn’t specify that she was black, she was named after co-creator Kevin Eastman’s then girlfriend, who was African-American.

Looks like Mikey’s about to go Kill Bill Vol. 1 on the competition.

For as long as anyone can remember, April O’Neil has been drawn, animated and cast as a white woman with red or brunette hair. This new younger, blackity black blacker design is a big step for positive representation. She’s giving us a Riri Williams/Lunella Lafayette look, swinging a magical bat at these foes’ heads, so test her if you want to.

And you thought you were just getting one black character? Naaaah. This time around, half the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are played by black voice actors, with Ballers’ Omar Miller playing the thuggish ruggish Raphael and Get On Up’s Brandon Mychal Smith spitting life into Michelangelo. We got two black Ninja Turtles and a black April O’Neil? Black Nerd History Month is truly blessing us this year.

I love the smell of diversity in the morning

We can’t wait to see Yung April swing into action. You better duck when she’s up to bat.

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  • Mistfire

    Honestly, as a fan of TMNT and a black guy, I don’t like April’s change. Why do it at all(and ‘representation’ is a weak answer) and, I don’t know, make this a new character? April can’t have black friends or something? Cast can’t expand? This feels like an attempt to pander so that people can write articles about how cool this is without really thinking about it.

    Also, not a fan of the character designs (Raph looks like Sonic Boom Knuckles), and why, oh why, did they change Raph and Mikey’s signature weapons? That’s just not right.

  • Me

    See…here’s the thing. The problem isn’t that April (or some of the cast) is black. The problem is that she’s Black April. The blatant tokenism on display here is honestly a deeply troubling step backward. “I’m black” should basically NEVER be a character trait. What we’re seeing here is the same hackneyed attempt at cultural engineering that tanked Ghostbusters 2016.

    Have a black April. Have black cast members. I’m all for it. But when the character becomes their skin color we’ve entered dangerous territory. My kids won’t be allowed to watch this for exactly this reason. The other meaningless, pandering changes to the tried and true turtle dynamic are unflattering, but ultimately beyond the point.

    Nickelodeon really screwed up here and we are all complicit if we don’t talk about it honestly. Everyone deserves better than this, including black folks who should be the most offended by this blatant appeal to superficial race traits. We’re better than this, but obviously Nickelodeon isn’t.

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