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The Student News Site of Hazen High School

The Kilt

The Student News Site of Hazen High School

The Kilt

The Controversies of The Live Action Avatar: The Last Airbender


This year, Avatar: The Last Airbender came out with a live-action show on February 22, which aired on Netflix as a collaboration with Nickelodeon, the original creator of the animation show. The show was a great way to show Asian representation and fans were excited when it was announced back in 2018, but once the show aired, there were some disagreements about the show with people comparing it to the original cartoon and 2010 movie.

The history of Avatar: The Last Airbender
The First ATLA (Avatar: The Last Airbender) was released by Nickelodeon on February 21, 2005. The story takes place in Asia where the different nations represent the four elements: Water, earth, fire, and air. Most characters can “bend” one out of four elements, but only one person can bend all four: The Avatar. Every time an avatar dies, its spirit is transferred into a new life and the next nation in line. The Avatar maintains the balance between the physical and spiritual world and restores the harmony of the four nations.

2010 Movie vs 2024 TV show
(Disclaimer: This is no hate towards the actors/crew of the movie. This is to compare what the writers and producers missed back in 2010 and how the 2024 version helps change that.)
Back in 2010, Nickelodeon released a live-action The Last Airbender movie produced by M. Night Shyamalan. The writer decided to take a more “realistic” approach, toning down the fantasy elements of the original show. Compared to the new live-action series the producers wanted to give the same energy as the original cartoon.

In the difference in casting, M. Night Shyamalan disregarded the cultural themes of the original cartoon, casting actors inaccurate to the Cartoon’s characters and culture. The Movie felt whitewashed due to the movie’s lack of Asian and native representation with the majority of the cast being White. Comparing that to the 2024 show, the character casting was more accurate to the cartoon characters but the movie also helps show the Asian and native representation.

Lastly, the difference in quality and research into the show. There is a big difference between the two, starting with the title and Introduction of the movie and show. In the 2010 Movie, it was named The Last Airbender. The producers didn’t even get the name right, as the 2024 show has the same title, art style, and soundtrack. One big thing to consider is the difference in effects and costuming. There is a huge gap in quality between the 2010 movie and the 2024 show and you can tell which version paid more attention to the show in which they paid homage.

The Racial Hate Towards The Show
Ever since the 2024 ATLA came out, there have been back-and-forth opinions between fans of the original animated version online comparing the looks of the 2024 actors to the cartoons. Fans commented that the actors don’t look like the characters due to their facial features. Still, they meant that the actors’ facial shapes were rounder than the cartoon characters, specifically the actors for the Azula, Mai, Princess Yue, and Zuko. In the cartoon, the characters’ facial shapes are very slim and their jaws are unrealistically defined. Even if the actors don’t look completely like the characters, they embody the characters’ roles and personalities extremely well.
On social media Thaila Tran (actor for Mai), Elizabeth Yu (actor for Azula), and Dallas Liu (actor for Zuko) receive hate due to their facial shape not being the same as the cartoon characters, and people body shaming them. First, if you look at Dallas Liu’s red carpet photos, his jawline is defined and he doesn’t have a lot of facial fat, but in the show, his face appears more round because in the show he is bald which makes his face look a lot more round. Lastly, if you look at Thaila Tran and Elizabeth Yu’s red carpet photos they do not need to change their bodies at all. Costumes can alter what a person’s body can look like. I feel that body shaming towards the actors because they don’t “fit” the skinny look of the animated characters is unrealistic and disrespectful.

There has been much hate towards a lot of the female actors in the show comparing them to the 2010 actors in the movie. For example, people have been comparing the actors of Princess Yue. While the person who played Princess Yue in the 2010 movie was super pretty, and the wig that she was wearing looked more realistic than the 2024 wig, she did not have the cultural aspect that the actor in the 2024 movie has. This is very discourteous to the actors because the movie was very whitewashed and had barely any Asian representation which the show improved upon.

Overall, the wig styling could have been better, but there is a difference between hating the costumes and hating the actors. In the end, all the actors worked hard to get their roles and the producers wanted to show more Asian representation in Hollywood media as the actor for Uncle Iroh, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, talked about in the behind-the-scenes video. They embarked on their characters’ personalities embracing and paying attention and homage to the characters and the writers’ intentions. The creators knew how to cast the actors to the characters and show more Asian representation in the acting industry, something the 2010 movie was not able to do.

The Reason The Actors Were Chosen
With the show casting, comes experience and sacrifice. Looking through each actor’s background, most of the younger cast like Gordon Cormier, Dallas Liu, Ian Ousley, and Maria Zhang have some sort of martial arts background. Whether it’s Taekwondo or Tai Chi, some of the actors had experience with martial arts while ones who didn’t take the time to learn each martial arts movement at the so-called ‘bending boot camp” where they learned under their peers the movements based on certain bendings.

Before the Live action was announced, most of the cast said they had already watched and loved the animation series. An example would be Kiawentiio, the actress for Katara, who explains in an interview that she was honored to embody the role of Katara. Dallas Liu, the actor for Zuko, did a talk with the original voice actor Dante Basco, and in the video, you can see the connection between the two and how much Dallas was honored to embrace and inherit the role of Zuko.

The last thing we can’t forget is how long the show was in production for which the producers committed and came through with. The Show was first announced in September 2018, however, the original producers Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko announced their departure from the show’s production around when Covid started, and then Albert Kim stepped up and took the role of head producer. Not only did the producers commit everything to the show, but so did the cast. In the live-action series Dallas Liu, and Gordon Comier shaved or altered their hair just for the role of Aang and Zuko due to both the characters having no hair. Overall, there was so much commitment in the production, training, reviewing the character’s personality, and casting which is why the cast got the roles they did.

As an Asian American, I have loved seeing more Asian representation in Hollywood ever since movies like The Joy Luck Club and Crazy Rich Asians came out. But Avatar: The Last Airbender does draw my attention a bit more due to how it is more towards a young adult audience. It feels nostalgic watching the new ATLA now seeing it being represented by Asian American young adult actors and actresses around my age makes me happy and hopeful for new shows and movies with more people of color in the future.

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About the Contributor
Olivia Panelo, Clubs Editor
HII :D I’m Olivia. I am a sophomore and I am the clubs editor here on Hazen’s newspaper staff. I love trying to give a spotlight to newer clubs or clubs that are lesser known. Ever need help getting your club out there, message me on Instagram @liv._jpg, and trying to find the perfect club for you? Read my article Club quiz here. I hope you enjoy my articles on the new online paper. STAN TWICE
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