ASIAN FUSION: WILL NETFLIX’S NEXT “AVATAR” SERIES WHITEWASH THE ASIAN-INSPIRED ORIGINAL?

CADY-BREE ABE WRITESThe new Netflix live action “Avatar the Last Airbender” TV series was set for release in 2020, but due to COVID-19, production has been delayed until 2021. Skeptical fans are not optimistic about the outcome. Here’s why. 

Many fans agree that the introduction to every episode of the original animated series “Avatar the Last Airbender” is one of the most recognizable and beloved aspects of the Avatar world. In the spirit of the show’s opening: The elements of Water, earth, fire, air can be bent at will by the characters.   

The show was beloved, and ran for three seasons on Nickelodeon, from 2005-2008. It followed siblings Katara (voiced by Mae Whitman) and Sokka (voiced by Jack DeSena) on their journey to help young Aang (voiced by Zach Tyler Eisen) save the world from the tyrannical Fire Lord of the Fire Nation. Fans of the hit television show Avatar the Last Airbender loved immersing themselves in this creative, Asian-inspired fantasy world.

Then, everything changed with the live action movie adaptation, released in 2010, which was cast with Caucasians. Also, the plot was over-simplified.   Only the creators of the show, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko-the true masters of the Avatar world-could have stopped these changes from happening. But when fans needed them most, they vanished. They did not intervene. Now a decade has passed, and a new live action TV series adaptation will eventually appear on Netflix.

Devastatingly, the creators announced that they would not be working on this new production due to creative differences. So fans are left to fear another disastrous adaptation of the well- known, Asian-inspired show once close to many people’s hearts.

While addressing heavy topics such as genocide, revolution and war, the original show departed from the normal Western-centric standpoint of many other American cartoons. The characteristically Asian inspired artwork, character designs and storyline drew people into a unique world, even though it was created in America by non-Asians. Avatar the Last Airbender pulled influence from various Asian countries, and accurately portrayed their cultures through displays of native scenery, clothing, and values.

For example, Sokka and Katara’s designs were inspired by the Inuit people, while Aang’s nomadic lifestyle and spirituality closely resembled that of  Buddhist Monks. The Fire Nation war attire closely matched Japan’s traditional pre-Westernized  samurai armor, while the emphasis of honor in the Fire Nation modeled that of Japanese culture. The Earth Kingdom’s most well- known city, Ba Sing Se, not only modeled Chinese-speaking citizens but was designed to resemble China’s capital, Beijing. Such animated artwork serves as important representation for young Asian Americans across the globe.

As a stark contrast, every character in the live action movie, except, ironically, the villain, was cast with a non-Asian actor. The spirituality that epitomized the entire Avatar world was condensed and simplified to represent vague magical powers rather than the real Asian martial arts that each of the elemental bendings was based on, such as Hung Ga 洪家  (earthbending), Taichi 太極拳 (water bending),  Bagua 八卦掌 (air bending) and Northern Shaolin 少林武術 (fire bending).

This June, Netflix added the original “Avatar the Last Airbender” TV series to its platform, where it broke the record for being on Netflix’s top 10 most watched list for the longest period of time (61 days). Despite such popularity, with the rise of the 2010 movie adaptation that stripped away these important Asian aspects, fans fear that history may repeat itself in Netflix’s 2021 live action TV series. Currently, without a set cast, and with the absence of the creators, fans remain pessimistic.

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