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How April’s Ethnicity in Rise of the TMNT Promotes Diversity

After the most recent announcements about Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of fans got hung up on April’s ethnicity. Not only will she be played by a black actress, but reports indicate that she will also apparently be a black character in the cartoon. To the credit of my fellow shellheads, most of the people who were focused on this detail were actually pleased to see it. That being said, it seems that this subject has created a bit of controversy, and I wanted to address the topic of ethnicity and change in the TMNT universe.

First of all, I have to say that it was a little disconcerting to see so much focus on the ethnicity of a cartoon character. Although most people were simply surprised to see it, others were questioning why they would even bother changing this detail. Ultimately, one’s ethnicity does not define what they are and are not capable of doing, so there’s no reason to be confused about this alteration of the character.

When it comes to the surprise of seeing April O’Neil change, it’s much easier to understand why fans would be shocked. After all, we’re talking about a character that has traditionally been white in the cartoons and movies since 1987. However, it’s worth noting that April wasn’t always a redhead, and she actually at least appeared to have a different ethnicity in the comic books. In other words, this wouldn’t be the first time that her character has been altered for a different iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

April's cartoon character has gone from helpless victim to powerful kunoichi. Girl power at its finest! Image Source: Nickelodeon.
April’s cartoon character has gone from helpless victim to powerful kunoichi. Girl power at its finest! Image Source: Nickelodeon.

Speaking of change, can we please show some appreciation for what Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did for April O’Neil? Instead of being a friend who frequently got into trouble and needed their help, Nick’s TMNT actually made April a Kunoichi (female ninja) with incredible powers of her own. This may not have been the first time that she was turned into a fairly powerful member of the team, but it was certainly nice to see her take on a stronger role in the latest Ninja Turtles cartoon.

When we look at the overall history of this character, it is a history filled with transformation. Not only has her ethnicity changed, but her purpose in the group has also been either downplayed or improved depending on how the creators chose to write her into the story. If there’s one thing we can say about April O’Neil, it is that she is more than capable of change. I mean, we’re talking about the first human being to give the turtles a chance, right?

April is all about accepting change and seeking justice. Not only do I welcome this change of ethnicity, I’m also excited to see what comes of Kat Graham‘s interpretation of the character. If Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made her an important and powerful member of the group, perhaps Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can go the extra mile and promote even more diversity in the TMNT universe.

Kat Graham (on the left) will be the first black voice actor to play April O'Neil. According to some sources, April O'Neil herself will also be black. Image Source: Nickelodeon.
Kat Graham (on the left) will be the first black voice actress to play April O’Neil. According to some sources, April O’Neil herself will also be black. Image Source: Nickelodeon.

So, how do I feel about April O’Neil’s change in ethnicity? I’m excited, I’m hopeful, and I’m proud to be a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That’s how I feel, and that’s probably how we should all feel. Oh, and extra kudos to Nickelodeon for hiring a more diverse group of voice actors for this cartoon. I’m still not sure how to feel about Raphael being the leader, but this is one change that I definitely support.

What do you think? Are you happy to see April’s ethnicity change? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Share your thoughts either in the comments below or on Facebook/Twitter. Please refrain from any racially insensitive discussions – we reserve the right to remove any inappropriate comments.

The Author

Justin W

Justin W

My name is Justin Wren and I love to write about the TMNT! I've been a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan since the late 80's. Back then, I would watch the original animated series and play with the Playmates toys all the time. I have been following the boys ever since I was a kid, and I'm very happy to see them back in the limelight after all these years. Needless to say, I'm proud to be a member of the team on this awesome TMNT Fan Site!

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  • disqus_TiFHwui96K

    I’m cool with it 🙂

  • cyndie

    I like it!

    ….I do not, however, care for the Leonardo and Raphael role reversal. 🙁

    • BirdLady12

      I’m taking a wait-and-see approach regarding Raph as the leader. However, I’m concerned by Leo’s description. I’m not necessarily opposed to him being more laid-back (the 90s movie Leo is one of my favorite incarnations of this character, and he certainly had a playful side). I just hope he is still recognizable as Leo (even 90s movie Leo still had a strong spiritual side). Unless, they’re planning some major character development throughout the series.

  • Andrea Stinson

    James Avery played Shredder in the original 80s show. He was my favorite Shredder. Also, Kevin Richardson played Shredder in the recent incarnation. Don’t forget to mention that!

    • Andre Christopher Feurtado

      Mr. Kevin Michael Richardson did an awesome job replicating Mr. James LaRue Avery

  • Elisa

    Her ethnicity has little relevance to her character so it really changes nothing about April, except that we have more diversity in the show which is a great thing. I’m actually hoping for some Latino characters *cough* Angel *cough*… 😁



  • BirdLady12

    Doesn’t bother me. She wasn’t originally white in the Mirage comics, like you said. I’m more concerned about her characterization and the voice actress’ performance. I like what they did with her in the Nick cartoon, with her character development and kick-ass abilities (glad the MA arc in which she was fridged is non-canon 😀 )