Welcome to this week’s installment of Geek Girl Authority Crush of the Week, wherein we shine a spotlight on strong women who inspire us. These ladies are a prime example of female empowerment and how crucial it is for youth to have said example to follow.
DISCLAIMER: The following article contains spoilers for both the Fox and Comedy Central Futurama run of episodes and the straight-to-DVD movies.
In the first episode of Futurama, “Space Pilot 3000,” Turanga Leela (Katey Sagal) lives in New York City. She works as a Cryogenic Counselor and Fate Assignment Officer for a company called Applied Cryogenics in the late 30th century. At the time, she believed herself to be an extraterrestrial of unknown origin. She was raised at the Cookieville Minimum-Security Orphanarium. On December 31, 2999, all that begins to change when her duties lead her to encounter the defrosted 20th-century throwback, Philip J. Fry (Billy West).
Inspired by Fry’s rejection of a career chip implant, Leela decides to take control of her own destiny. She subsequently quits her job at Applied Cryogenics and becomes the captain of the Planet Express Ship and its crew.
Thanks to the opportunities working for Planet Express provides for her, Leela is soon traveling through space as a starship captain. While the ship she’s commanding is ostensibly for commercial use, she nevertheless becomes a legitimate space-bound hero – a fact even a big jerk like Melllvar the energy being (Maurice LaMarche) has to admit in the episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before!”
There’s a reason that the daffodil, a flower that signifies rebirth and new beginnings, is a recurring symbol in Futurama. Just as Fry experiences a “rebirth,” Leela undergoes several “rebirths” herself.
In an early episode, “Love’s Labours Lost in Space,” Leela rescues Nibbler (Frank Welker), who at the time she believes is an innocent (but dumb) animal in danger of being killed by the machinations of a commercial mining outfit with a government contract. Leela’s empathy not only rewards her with an adorable Nibblonian pet who generates a lot of cost-saving starship fuel with his “leavings,” but it is later revealed that he is actually a super-intelligent alien. He enlists her help to save the universe on more than one occasion.
And another important rebirth occurs when Leela uncovers the truth of her identity in the episode “Leela’s Homeworld.” She’s not an alien but rather a mutated human. However, because she’s the least-mutated mutant ever born, she’s able to pass as an alien and live on the surface rather than being banished to the sewers with the rest of her people. This revelation allows her to begin a new chapter in her relationship with her sewer-confined parents, Turanga Munda (Tress MacNeille) and Turanga Morris (David Herman).
The Real Deal:
Leela is the real deal. Although she avoids being exiled to the sewers as a mutant, she isn’t satisfied to let other injustices stand. In the DVD movie Into the Wild Green Yonder, she joins up with the Feministas. They are an extra-legal organization who perform public acts of environmentally motivated monkey-wrench resistance against the wealthy, corrupt and exceedingly masculine miniature golf tycoon Leo Wong (West again).
While she may have been able to pass as an alien without consequences for several decades, her secret eventually comes out in the episode “The Mutants are Revolting.” But rather than be content with oppression, Leela leads an all-out rebellion that sees the underclass of mutants (literally) rising up and taking to the streets of New New York – a place they are not legally allowed to occupy – to successfully demand they be given equal rights.
Why She Matters:
Why does Leela matter? Despite facing injustice because of who she is, what she looks like, or because she’s a woman, Leela never backs down or yields her place as the Captain of the Planet Express Ship. And while satisfying her sense of personal justice may be challenging at times, that doesn’t mean she isn’t ready to stand up for others who are being oppressed. Even when it’s those crewmates of hers who are never giving her enough respect, especially Bender (John DiMaggio)!
So, be like Leela. Don’t let others push you around. No matter whether they’re making fun of the way you look or trying to oppress you for who you are. And remember: when it comes right down to it, there aren’t a lot of problems that can’t be solved with a flying kick and big honking space boot to the face. Hiiiiiii-YAH!
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