The icon. The black nerd legend. The first black power ranger and the first Black power ranger. Zachary “Zack” Taylor is the G.O.A.T. of Power Rangers.
As the original black ranger, Walter Jones portrayed Zack in the debut episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in 1993. He continued to play as Zack for 88 episode when the Mighty Morphin series ended.
Power Rangers was the first nerd fandom I was a part of as a child before I was even aware I was a nerd. I’d often spend my time when I wasn’t in front of my family’s 14 inch Panasonic TV with the rabbit ear antennas on top, lost in my imagination pretending to be a Power Ranger. My friend and I at recess would pretend to be power rangers and fight putties and defeat Rita’s evil schemes. In my childhood fantasy, I was always Zack. Thinking back I would assume Zack’s position as the black ranger and be him over the others even after the dramatic reveal of the Green Ranger and Tommy conversion to the white ranger and leadership role. In my make believe Angel Groove world even as a child, I recognized myself as him.
With the upcoming live-action Power Rangers movie approaching in March I recently decided to revisit the old series and relive all of its cheesy 90s glory.
Watching it as an adult I’m noticing more about Zack and his portrayal that I missed as a child, and loving how unapologetically black and a carefree black boy he is. As one of the few black folks in a fictional Californian city, tasked with defending the world from an extraterrestrial danger he was always himself and so proudly black in every episode. One of the most obvious examples of this is Zack’s hair, wearing the iconic style of the early 90s. Black hair, especially for Black femmes’ hair, has been historically and politically deemed as unacceptable, unattractive, unprofessional, and unkempt. The stigma even in the 90s was so effective that even black folx began to view our hair in its natural state as negative, getting our hair cut or straighten became a necessity. Zack with either his hightop fade or twists or mini fro, he would wear his hair out and proud around Angel Groove.
Zack’s natural hair wasn’t the only break from the white norm, the same goes for his clothes. His clothing was definitely the quintessential black look of the 90s. He would often wear Garveyism colors (red, black, and green), loose. Baggy clothing resembling F.U.B.U and FILA. Much of Zack’s aesthetic were a reflection of the aesthetics coming out of Hip Hop. The 90s Hip Hop era set the style for black men. Rappers like Craig Mack, Puffy, Notorious B.I.G and others popularized this style in their videos. Zack, though he lacked the hypermasculine attitude of the rapper, played out these aesthetics as the producers of the show intended.
Walter Jones said in an interview with TMZ that mostly if not all the actors up, for the role of Zack were Black men. They intended (typecast) for the character to be black guy with happy go lucky attitude who could dance but particularly fit a hip-hop mold. One thing that Jones mentioned in this interview that his fighting style as Zack was meant to mimic dance calling it Hip Hop Kiddo, resembling Capoeira featuring a lot of kicks and flips but very rhythmic. Who better to fit this role than a black guy. Placing a Black body as Zack authenticates the heavy hip-hop aesthetics the character is based in.The decision to make him the black ranger came after Jones was selected for the role. I previously saw Zack as such a break from the projected view of black men in the media, both entertainment and mass media. He is described as being upbeat, enthusiastic, and clever and my oldest memories and my experience rewatching absolutely valid that description. But there are rumors that he original auditioned for Billy, the nerdy blue ranger but because he was black and fit the mold they wanted to fill he was cast as Zack. The gatekeepers of the show made the decision to maintain the image black folk seen within a narrow mold. Nothing about Billy requires that character to be white but the decision was made nonetheless that Jones would be better as Zack than Billy. The understanding that the character was built off these stereotypes of black men doesn’t sour the character or my opinion of him but it does provide an example of how blackness is seen even in shows as campy as Power Rangers and how that image is maintained.
Zack’s presence early in my childhood validated me seeing myself in fantasy or sci-fi space. Even before I became cognizant of the lack of black folk in these spaces, I saw myself in him. He existed as the only black person on the team and wasn’t afraid to be himself. I grew up with constant hypermasculine images of black men and black men around me who often tried to mold me into a replica of these images. My father being a man’s man enjoyed football, basketball etc. Me, on the other hand, existed in my fantasy world as a power ranger, as a superhero, a Pokemon trainer. Zack was my resistance to my father’s influence, making me free to exist as this weird kid who loved power rangers over sports. Zack was my introduction into fandoms and nerd spaces. As a black child, his presence as the black ranger made me realize that I deserved to see myself in these spaces just as much a white people did. In the series that followed, other incarnations of Power Rangers all included a black person and now things are coming full circle with the live action movie, actor RJ Cyler will play Billy Cranston. Black power rangers that followed all due to Jones playing Zack in his youth. I can take my younger cousins to see this adaption of my old favorite show and they can see themselves as an intelligent Black student whose capable of being more than what the stereotypical media shows. Zack’s legacy continues in this new adaption of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and can influence a new generation of black nerds.
Author: Kendall Bazemore
Editor: Han Angus