Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the beloved Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) has found itself rocking the boat yet again.
In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly (EW), the cast of the Netflix rendition revealed they toned down the sexist comments from the character of Sokka.
“I feel like we also took out the element of how sexist [Sokka] was. I feel like there were a lot of moments in the original show that were iffy,” says Kiawentiio Tarbell, who portrays Katara. Ian Ousley, who plays Sokka concurs, adding “Yeah, totally. There are things that were redirected just because it might play a little differently [in live action].”
On paper, removing sexist comments or updating for the times could be seen as a positive. However, one of the biggest concerns of any adaptation is what will be changed or removed from the original source material. Fervent fans of the animated classic were already burned from the widely panned M. Night Shyamalan film remake.
Online discourse on various Reddit threads are mixed on the matter. The top comment in the thread r/Entertainment says, “But Sokka's sexism was part of a story arc for his character development. He was humbled by female warriors and that humility led him to ask to learn from them and helped him become a stronger fighter in the end.” The top reply to that post was “I’m so tired of media having to portray every character as unrealistically politically correct because they are (understandably) scared the audience will overreact to flaws.”
Elsewhere, the r/TheLastAirbender thread is a bit more understanding of the show’s pacing with only eight episodes in the remake compared to the original 20 episodes of the animated series.
As the cast points out in the EW interview, there are mannerisms and expressions that won’t translate well to live-action. The original ATLA was targeted toward children. The show’s first season was lighthearted and somewhat juvenile when contrasted with the darker and mature themes in later seasons.
Sokka’s sexism appears early on and is cartoonishly sophomoric. In the very first episode, he remarks, “Leave it to a girl to screw things up!” Later in episode four, he makes a comment toward Katara about her sewing: “Girls are better at fixing pants than guys, and guys are better at hunting and fighting and stuff like that. It's just the natural order of things.” In that same episode, Sokka goes on a character arc in which he is soundly humbled by the badass women combatants known as the Kyoshi Warriors, who prove to be far better at fighting than he is.
This is the episode most fans are referencing as a crucial moment for Sokka’s growth that ought to be kept in. It’s entirely possible that a version of it will be. The Kyoshi Warrior episode will be adapted and several scenes depicting Sokka training with the women are shown in the Netflix trailers. The EW interview didn’t explicitly say there would be no sexist or arrogant beliefs from Sokka, but rather they would remove egregious ones.
There are still ways to depict Sokka’s headstrong machismo. From the same EW interview, the cast alludes to a stronger emphasis on how Sokka develops by not having his father around.
People are already bent out of shape, but the series doesn’t even arrive until Feb 22. Let’s be willing to give the adaptation a chance.
Published on January 30, 2024
Words by Daniel Anderson
Daniel Anderson is a disabled Chinese American adoptee based in Seattle. His freelance writing specialties include K-pop, entertainment, and food. He believes that any restaurant can be a buffet, and the key to success is to take a nap each day. Follow his adventures on Instagram @danzstan.