The Nickelodeon animated TV series “Avatar: the Last Airbender” (ATLA) aired its finale on July 19, 2008. We have not stopped talking about it since.
ATLA is a kids’ show that is not just a kids’ show. It is a story about responsibility, destiny, unity, trauma, and war. It influenced and entertained an entire generation. I could write tens of thousands of words on what this show has taught me and it still wouldn’t be enough.
The show has also withstood the test of time. It was recently put on Netflix, which led to a resurgence in popularity.
So in true Hollywood fashion, Netflix has decided to make a live-action version. After the 2010 less than stellar attempt at a live action, many fans, myself included, were cautious. Netflix tried to dissuade our doubt by hiring the original show’s writers, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, to oversee the production. But now the fans’ worst fear has come to pass: both writers announced that they are no longer working on the Netflix adaptation.
The writers left citing “creative differences.” According to FandomWire, one of those differences was about casting. Apparently, Netflix wants to consider white actors for the leading roles.
ATLA was impactful to everyone who watched it, but especially to children of color. The show created deep, well-rounded characters of color. Representation matters. I have always supported shows and films that depict minority characters. Not only do those perspectives deserve to be told, but they also help people in the majority understand people in the minority. ATLA is no different. In fact, it is even more important because the show is aimed towards children. It teaches children to accept people who don’t look or dress like them. And it teaches children of color that their stories matter. They are not side characters used to boost their white counterparts.
ATLA relies heavily on eastern culture and philosophies. For example, the Northern and Southern Water Tribes take from Inuit culture and clothing. Therefore, people of Inuit descent should be in those roles. White actors should not be the ones to represent Eastern culture to Western audiences. In doing so, it sets the precedent that non-Western cultures are only significant if they are represented by the white majority. It’s cultural appropriation, plain and simple.
I can understand why people might not think this is a big deal. We all just want to see the ATLA live-action be the best it can be. But to do that, it needs to keep the aspects that made it so great. Mainly, it needs to continue representing people of color and Eastern culture in a beautiful, intelligent way.