In Defense of Turonga Leela #WomenInFiction #MarchMadness

Turonga Leela kicks ass. Metaphorically, physically, you name it. She grew up an orphan in New New York, never knowing her true origins. The one-eyed spaceship captain of the Planet Express ship, Turanga Leela is a compassionate activist with a rebellious, if slightly violent, streak. However, beneath her sarcastic and no nonsense demeanor, she is a compassionate and self-sacrificing leader.

When we first meet Leela, she ends up feeling sorry for a newly defrosted Fry, and agrees to let him “escape”. She proceeds to remove her own job chip and joins him as a job deserter, “because I’ve always wanted to.” From then on, she routinely comes to her crews’ rescue. After Fry and Bender are drafted into a war with the bouncing ball planet, Leela secretly enlists as a male solider to watch over and protect them. At a different point, she even rescues the crew from Zapp Brannigan’s mess after they declared mutiny against her and locked her in the brig.
As a teenager, she became the best martial artist student in the orphanage, despite her the master’s sexist protests. Years later, she would train Bender to “fight like a girl” in the Ultimate Robot Fighting League. There, Bender is pitted against an opponent who is being coached by her old master. When Leela discovers her old master is cheating, she confronts and defeats him.

She has a strong moral compass. When faced with the dilemma between avoiding a shameful encounter and sheltering the animals from Vergon 6, a dying planet, she swallows her pride and asks the pompous Zapp Brannigan for help. Despite not being able to save the animals of Vergon 6, she decides to adopt Nibbler as a pet against orders from Zapp Brannigan. She continues to make selfless choices, like when she commits to marrying Alcazar, a one-eyed alien douche in order to ensure their species’ survival. It’s only after the truth is discovered that he is not the same species as her, but instead a shape-shifting alien, that she leaves him and kicks his ass at the altar.

Leela is an ardent activist for a host of causes. She is quite an environmentalist and feminist, having protected penguin reserves on Pluto, campaigned against people eating Popplers (despite being the one to discover that the Omicronian young are quite delicious), and has participated in and organized protests for women’s equality. She even considered adopting an orphan while dating Dr. Adlai Atkins.

Even her flaws make her easily relatable. Her love life is a little lacking, and she always seem to find herself dating losers. She lives alone, and her primary friends are her coworkers. Amy is her closest female friend, and yet she is easily annoyed by and sometimes jealous of her. She preps her food well in advance, and buys clothing in bulk. Sometimes, she even seems sick of her efficient, no nonsense way of life. Her exasperation at other characters living recklessly and frivolous feels oddly familiar, like trying to adult while watching my Facebook feed.

Sarcastic, compassionate, and not afraid to kick some ass, Leela makes a spectacular captain and leader.

– Raquel Ford