All You Need to Know About Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender

Posted on December 6, 2021

Ian Ousley, Kiawentiio, Gordon Cormier, and Dallas Liu, photo from Netflix

While the release of the original animated Avatar: The Last Airbender series was almost seventeen years ago, its impact can still be felt today. Since its release, the fictional universe has expanded tremendously with the creation of a sequel series in 2012 titled The Legend of Korra, as well as canon comics developed by the original creators of ATLA, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. 

Fans have been longing for new animated content in the Avatar universe since The Legend of Korra ended in 2014. This desire was partially fulfilled in September 2018 when DiMartino and Konietzko announced on Instagram that they would be working with Netflix to create new Avatar content, but fans were confused to discover that the announced series would be a live-action adaptation of the original ATLA. This confusion quickly manifested into fear when fans recalled the past catastrophe of a certain live-action Avatar-related film directed by M. Night Shyamalan in 2010. Fans’ fear only worsened when DiMartino and Konietzko disclosed on Instagram in August 2020 that they would be leaving the Netflix adaptation after two years of development due to not being able to control its creative direction, essentially diminishing any hope that the live-action adaptation had in being authentic.

Actors from M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 film adaptation of ATLA, photo from Screen Rant

Filming for this new ATLA adaptation officially began this November, as production was delayed due to the pandemic. Netflix has had more than three years since their announcement to develop the series, which has left some fans hopeful that they would be using that time to make additional creative decisions to fully perfect the series. While this extra time does not guarantee the production’s success, many promising details have been revealed over the past few months that give the series potential.

Firstly, the casting has so far proven to be racially appropriate and not whitewashed. The original animated ATLA is based in a world where the characters are a mixture of East Asian and Inuit, an aspect that wasn’t respected in Shyamalan’s film. As of now, a significant number of actors who are part of the series have been revealed. In August, it was confirmed that Gordon Cormier (12) would star as Aang, Katara would be played by Kiawentiio (15), Ian Ousley (19) would play Sokka, and Dallas Liu (20) — who just starred in Shang-Chi — would play Prince Zuko. More actors were announced this past November, such as Daniel Dae Kim (Fire Lord Ozai), Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Uncle Iroh), Lim Kay Siu (Monk Gyatso), and Ken Leung (Commander Zhao). All of these actors are of East Asian or Indigenous North American descent. Azula is also reported to be in this first season of the adaptation, but her role has yet to be announced.

Moreover, excitement is starting to cultivate as people begin to realize how big of a project this adaptation is set to be. The series has already attracted notable names such as Michael Goi (known for American Horror Stories), Jabbar Raisani (Lost in Space and Game of Thrones), Blair Fetter (The Queen’s Gambit), as well as Albert Kim (2013 television adaptation of Sleepy Hollow). Netflix has also partnered with visual effects studio Pixomondo in building a custom 23,000 square foot production stage that uses more than 3000 LED panels to create virtual environments — the same technology used on the set of Disney+’s The Mandalorian.

While the casting is a huge step in representation and the production stage seems impressive, fans still have concerns for the ultimate direction of the series. DiMartino has stated that this live-action adaptation is going to be a ‘retelling,’ further explaining that this series offers a “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.” With this understanding, it’s exciting to think that CGI might be able to pull off believable bending.

While that’s been most of the news released about the live-action remake, the Avatar universe is continuing to expand. Shortly after DiMartino and Konietzko revealed their departure from the adaptation, they announced the creation of Avatar Studios, where they would both be returning to Nickelodeon to “develop new animated projects in the #avatarverse and oversee the franchise.” While they’ve indicated that they have already “mapped out a very ambitious, multi-tiered” plan, it could be years before any content is released.

This news about the Netflix adaptation and the creation of Avatar Studios is more than thrilling and truly shows the influence that the Avatar universe holds on people. A lot of this content won’t be released for a long time, but it goes without saying that fans have no misgivings with waiting a few more years in hopes that everything is perfected and created respectfully, rather than rushed or inaccurate. ATLA is a series that a lot of its fans hold close to their hearts, and no one would want to see it be treated poorly. We just have to hope that this adaptation will live up to its increasing expectations.

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Lucas (he/him) is a transfer student and currently in his first year of Media Production, where he hopes to go into screenwriting. With a passion for photography, he almost always has his film camera with him capturing moments. In his free time, he likes to watch horror movies, listen to 2000s pop music, and do graphic design.