Why Did The “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Creators Leave Netflix’s Live-Action Production?
Many Avatar: The Last Airbender fans have been greeted with unsettling news: The show’s co-creators announced they would no longer be involved in Netflix’s live action adaptation of the beloved Nickelodeon series. Both Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko cited creative differences as their main reason for departing the reboot. DiMartino raised concerns among the fanbase in a recent blogpost, stating “Whatever version ends up on screen, it will not be what Bryan and I had envisioned or intended to make.”
Konietzko raised those concerns in a lengthy Instagram post, where he explained even further the pair’s decision to leave. “To be clear, this was not a simple matter of us not getting our way,” Konietzko wrote. “Mike and I are collaborative people; we did not need all of the ideas to come from us. As long as we felt those ideas were in line with the spirit and integrity of Avatar, we would have happily embraced them. However, we ultimately came to the belief that we would not be able to meaningfully guide the direction of the series.”
A spokesperson for Netflix released a statement in response to the co-creators’ announcements, telling news sources “We have complete respect and admiration for Michael and Bryan and the story that they created in the Avatar animated series. Although they have chosen to depart the live action project, we are confident in the creative team and their adaptation.” The news is making many fans wonder if the series can live up to its original hype, and many are asking a very important question: What were the creative differences that forced the co-creators of Avatar to walk away?
For starters, it is possible that DiMartino and Konietzko wanted to have a bigger budget than what Netflix was already offering. It is only natural for creators and filmmakers to want as much money as possible to ensure the highest standard of quality for their finished release, especially when it comes to recreating something originally animated. In the universe of Avatar, bending the four elements feels so natural and lifelike despite being something that can never be attained in real life. Animation is what allows bending to feel this way, and it is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing aspect of the series.
This is definitely not to say that it cannot be replicated in live action. Heck, just take a look at any Marvel movie that was released within the past couple of years. The graphic engineers over at Marvel Studios have done an amazing job at creating a larger-than-life universe within our own world, but it can be argued that it’s only because Disney was able to provide them with a massive enough budget to obtain the resources they needed to pull it off. It would have to take at least a budget of a similar size to be able to recreate the same type of realism for a live action Avatar. Netflix may have felt like what they were offering was plenty enough, even if it wasn’t to DiMartino and Konietzko.
Another contributing factor might be rumors that Netflix was potentially interested in casting white actors. The world of Avatar is deeply inspired by Asian civilizations like China, Japan, Tibet, and even Indigenous Arctic peoples such as the Inuit, which were believed to have origins in Mongolia. If the world of Avatar were to be portrayed in real life, it would seemingly make sense that its inhabitants are people who would come from the different cultures that the four nations were based off of respectively, all of which are Asian. A live action Avatar series would be a golden opportunity to have an entirely Asian ensemble in a widely-anticipated production.
In addition, Asian representation in entertainment media remains incredibly low. UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report from 2019 shows that Asians made up only 4.9 percent of roles in digital scripted shows during the 2016-17 season; while this is a number that is still very low, it is also a statistic that is steadily increasing. This concern isn’t new to the Avatar franchise, as M. Night Shyamalan's 2010 live action movie is continuously cited as an example of Hollywood’s whitewashing problem. When DiMartino and Konietzko signed onto the Netflix series back in 2018, they wanted to fully commit to a non-whitewashed cast so the same mistakes and criticisms could be avoided. It could be possible that Netflix wanted to open up the casting to white people in hopes of obtaining a big name actor or actress to attach to the production, which they may have strongly advised against.
Finally, perhaps the most concerning reason for the co-creators’ departure was the overall tone Netflix wanted for the series. Keep in mind, Avatar: The Last Airbender is a kids show that originally aired on a kids television network. The series definitely covers mature topics and themes, but ultimately it was designed to be a great way to introduce kids to these kinds of issues without being too dark or serious in tone. Even adults who might have been recently introduced to the show can agree that the lessons it teaches can leave a lasting impact.
Despite all of this, Netflix may have been using the show’s extreme popularity (it was in the Top 10 for 61 consecutive days, the longest streak of any series on the streaming platform) as another springboard to make an even more-acclaimed original series. Many of Netflix’s most popular originals such as House of Cards, The Witcher, and even Stranger Things are darker and more serious when especially compared to Avatar. Achieving this level of maturity would mean having to change virtually every aspect of the animated series; there was even speculation that Netflix was going to age up all of the main characters and incorporate a substantial amount of romance, sex, and blood. Considering that Aang is technically 12 years old, hearing this is definitely worrying diehard fans, and if the speculation was true, it was not something DiMartino and Konietzko were willing to agree to.
No matter the angle you look at the news, this is definitely not good for fans who held their expectations high for the series. Many are even predicting that this could be a repeat of the disastrous 2010 movie, which is not what any fan wants to hear. Maybe it’s best to put the tale of Aang and his friends to rest and have Netflix abandon their plans to remake the original story. However, that doesn’t mean Netflix can’t do anything with Avatar. Instead of focusing on the main story that was told in the animated series, perhaps it would be more interesting to focus on another story that took place within the universe.
Personally, it would be pretty cool to see a prequel series that focused on Uncle Iroh, one of the most admired characters in the show. Being able to see how a revered yet ruthless Fire Nation general turned into a worldly, down-to-earth mentor could not fall any short of having any excitement and intrigue. Not only that, but it would please both Netflix and the fans of the series altogether; it would give Netflix the opportunity to make that troubled backstory dark and serious in tone while giving the fans a taste of the original animated show.
It seems like the best course of action right now is to just wait until Netflix decides to release more information regarding the new series. Hopefully the first trailer they will show eventually will reinvigorate the hype everyone initially had - it would be great to be proven wrong. But for right now, anyone hoping to get a new Avatar fix can now watch its spinoff sequel The Legend of Korra, which had all four seasons recently released on Netflix.
(Cover Photo: comicbook.com)