This time it will include a “culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed ” cast.
Netflix made world affairs a bit more bearable last week when it released all three seasons (or, rather, “books”) of Avatar: The Last Airbender. But the streaming service has had its eye on the Nickelodeon property (created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino) for some time, even announcing in 2018 (2018!). That it would produce a live action Avatar: The Last Airbender. Which (and now we’re in the Speculation Kingdom) could act as a sequel to the beloved animated series.
Most of those plans are no doubt on hold now. The original hope was to begin production by 2019. But by the end of the year the team was still writing and casting. Now, it’s looking probably like 2021 or 2022, so, like, an eternity.
The good news is that Netflix brought on the original creators, Konietzko and DiMartino, to act as executive producers and showrunners.
In a statement, Konietzko and DiMartino explained their plans:
“We’re thrilled for the opportunity to helm this live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We can’t wait to realize Aang’s world as cinematically as we always imagined it to be, and with a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build upon everyone’s great work on the original animated series and go even deeper into the characters, story, action and world-building. Netflix is wholly dedicated to manifesting our vision for this retelling, and we’re incredibly grateful to be partnering with them.”
As of January 2020, the team was still casting, and it was reported that the team was “looking for a mostly Asian cast and a 12-14 [year old] Asian kid to play Aang.”
The team’s focus on “culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast” is a direct response to The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 live action adaptation of Book 1 of the series. The film was deservedly trashed (it currently has a 5% on Rotten Tomatoes) both for its lackluster storytelling and its use of many Caucasian actors to portray obviously non-Caucasian characters. (Aang’s character is based on Nepali monks; Katara and Sokka are based on Inuit peoples; Zuko is based on Chinese imperial royalty; and so on and so on.)
Also worth noting is the creators’ use of the term “retelling.”
In the current canon, the events subsequent to Avatar are told in The Legend of Korra, which picks up 70 years into the future. It follows Korra, the next Avatar in line after Aang.
It’s not clear yet whether the Netflix series will attempt to bridge the gap between Avatar and Korra. From the term “retelling,” though, we’re not hopeful for that true sequel.
But it’s hard to imagine the creative team behind the greatest animated TV series of all time would want to simply remake their creation. The original series concluded with Aang facing off against Fire Lord Ozai. And though the story ends with a world ostensibly without war, there’s still plenty of conflict; think of the Four Nations as the world at the end of WWII. Empires don’t simply collapse without fallout.
But even if Netflix were to stay within the story’s original timeline. It’s unlikely they’ll be remaking the same scenes. The writers experimented with several story structures during the series’ original run, including stand-alone episodes, anthologies, and frame narratives. That creativity is likely to extend to any “retelling,” with episodes diving deeper into off-screen events (like the Water Tribe’s early battles against the Fire Nation) or peripheral characters (like Jet or Haru). Avatar’s world is ginormous, and it would be a waste to simply reshoot frame by frame the original story.
We suspect Konietzko and DiMartino have something much more exciting up their sleeves. Just gotta wait a few years to find out.