In a new interview, the cast of Netflix’s upcoming adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender revealed a crucial change from the animated show, one that makes sense on the surface, but maybe not in context.
Netflix’s highly anticipated live-action version of the show will be out February 22 and—as has been the case with previous adaptations like Cowboy Bebop and One Piece—fans are likely to be highly critical of every decision made. After all, Netflix has adapted these properties due to their popularity, so there’s a delicate balance between keeping what makes the original, beloved animated show work, but also justifying its live-action existence.
So, for example, in the original Avatar show one of the main characters, Sokka, starts with a very problematic, but also very purposeful, character flaw. He’s sexist. “‘Girls are better at fixing pants than guys, and guys are better at hunting and fighting,” is one often cited example. However, for the new show, this will apparently be removed.
“I feel like we also took out the element of how sexist [Sokka] was,” Kiawentiio, who plays Sokka’s sister Katara on the show, revealed to Entertainment Weekly. “I feel like there were a lot of moments in the original show that were iffy.” “Yeah, totally,” Ian Ousley, who plays Sokka, replied. “There are things that were redirected just because it might play a little differently [in live action].”
Before we dig into this a bit more, there are important things to mention here. First, this is just the actors giving their interpretations. There’s a whole big show around them with other characters and intentions so we’re potentially missing a lot of crucial context. Also, they’re kids doing an interview. We can’t take their words as the tried and true gospel and have to give them a bit of leeway. But, also, this is obviously something that was discussed on set and the comments seem more than a tad unaware of the context of the sexism in the original show.
In the original animated show, Sokka’s sexism is an important element in early episodes and a crucial element of what catalyzes Katara to challenge the traditions and hierarchy of the Water tribe at the end of season one. There’s even an entire episode about it—just four episodes into the show—in which Sokka learns and grows beyond his sexist biases when he meets Suki and the all-female Kyoshi warriors and has his notions of masculinity challenged. If this was handled in a mature way in an animated show aimed at children, why can’t the remake—aimed at new kids and the people who grew up watching the original—also handle it maturely, instead of removing chunks of it entirely?
Is it bad that Sokka is sexist? Yes. Is it also in the show for a reason, making him a flawed character who grows and we learn to love in spite of that? Also yes. It’s not some kind of dated reference that gets removed to make a modern adaptation more inclusive or PC. It’s part of the text. Part of the character’s DNA. Which, again, might play out differently once the show airs. But if the Netflix show fumbles something like this, which is just so baseline obvious, fans might be in trouble.
We’ll find out on February 22 when Avatar: The Last Airbender comes to Netflix.
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