Avatar: The Last Airbender was released onto the Netflix streaming platform in May, giving long-time fans a summer treat. The show also picked up some new fans and within a day of release, it hit the No. 1 spot in the US, ranking as the most popular TV show or movie on the platform.
The series originally aired on Nickelodeon from 2005-2008 and follows the titular character, Avatar Aang and his friends in their quest to defeat the Fire Lord and save the Four Nations.
In 2018 Netflix announced plans to produce a live-action Avatar series with production due to start in 2020 but the coronavirus pandemic has put that date back. Let’s hope that the hype currently surrounding the animated series can be sustained whilst we wait for the live-action to come to fruition.
There’s a lot of speculation on social media as to the casting choices Netflix will make. One thing we know for sure is that Netflix can’t do any worse with a live-action offering than M Night Shyamalan has done. Shyamalan’s Last Airbender movie serves as a living blueprint on how not to screw up a beloved series. With an abysmal scoring on Rotten Tomatoes and the fan backlash that followed the film’s release, Netflix has a solid playbook on how to do better.
Critically the most important thing to get right for the live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender is the cast. Avatar is influenced by Asian philosophy and culture and the Four Nations are very distinct.
- The Air Nomads live in Air Temples away from the rest of the world, their culture is based on Buddhism.
- The Water Tribes live in the polar regions and are based on Arctic cultures such as the Inuit.
- The Earth Kingdom is diverse but mostly based on Chinese culture with Ba Sing Se, the capital of the Earth Kingdom being based on Chinese capitals such as Beijing. Kyoshi Island on the other hand is influenced by Japan as seen in the face makeup worn by the Kyoshi Warriors and their fighting style.
- The Fire Nation is based on several East Asian cultures. Imperial Japan has a strong influence from the Agni Kai (honour duel) to the nationalistic culture and propaganda machine.
Despite claiming to have watched Avatar: The Last Airbender with his daughters, in making his casting choices, Shyamalan failed to acknowledge the importance of representation. I believe Netflix will endeavour to get this right so that fans can finally rid ourselves of the bad test the film left in our collective mouths.