When all three seasons of the Nickelodeon original series Avatar: The Last Airbender made their way to Netflix, fans of the show were thrilled at the prospect of watching Aang the Avatar’s epic journey unfold once again. That excitement doubled when Netflix shared that it would be partnering with the show’s creators for a live-action reboot of the Nick classic. However, new developments from the Netflix project have the Avatar fandom side-eyeing the streaming giant and questioning whether a remake is even worth it after all.
After signing on to collaborate on the live action version of their story, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have stepped away from the production. News of the creators’ departure came this yesterday when DiMartino shared an open letter to Avatar fans on his website.
"Many of you have been asking me for updates about the Avatar live-action Netflix series,” DiMartino wrote. “I can finally tell you that I am no longer involved with the project. In June of this year, after two years of development work, Bryan Konietzko and I made the difficult decision to leave the production."
DiMartino didn't go into specifics, but his letter mentioned that he and Konietzko's vision for the live-action series didn't exactly match up with what Netflix had in mind. The creative differences proved too much for the pair, forcing them to step away from their own project.
"Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar has the potential to be good,” he concluded. “It might turn out to be a show many of you end up enjoying. But what I can be certain about is that whatever version ends up on-screen, it will not be what Bryan and I had envisioned or intended to make.”
Fans were disappointed with the creators' departure from the production, and they were quick to come up with their own theories about what "creative differences" may have been too much for DiMartino and Konietzko to tolerate. Some speculated that the Netflix's observed interest in making Avatar a love story may have contributed to their exit.
When the Nickelodeon series first hit the platform, the streaming giant made an effort to be an active part of the conversation about the worldwide rewatch. In June, an official Netflix Twitter account created a poll to see which of the show's iconic ships was the most popular, which fans think was market research for the live-action version. If so, the finished product could be less of a sweeping action adventure and more of a love story, which is taking the original plot in an unwanted new direction.
But romance isn't even the biggest worry about fans of the show — it's the whitewashing. A remake of Avatar has been attempted once before; M. Night Shyamalan helmed a live-action movie, The Last Airbender, that absolutely tanked in 2010. The film was a disaster for many reasons, mainly its odd choice to cast mostly white actors in a story that takes place in a fictitious Asian country and references indigenous culture. Unfortunately, the rebooted series may definitely fall into that same trap.
Let's be real: Hollywood doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to accurately casting remakes, especially when it comes to stories that call for Asian and Asian American representation. Projects like Ghost in the Shell, Death Note, and Dragonball Revolution overlooked Asian actors, choosing instead to alter the storylines so that they could go with white people. Avatar fans are fairly certain that their favorite series will suffer a similar fate.
With the show's original creators out of the picture, many are fearful that the Avatar remake will tarnishing its strong legacy. Fans are so worried about the project that they are circulating a petition for the Netflix production, complete with their demands and expectations for the show: no sexualizing the characters, and no colonizer/colonized romance plot lines.
While Netflix has promised to do its best in the live-action reimagining of the story, its fans aren't at all convinced it will be worth tuning into. Without DiMartino and Konietzko, the streaming giant has a lot to prove, but it's up to the challenge.
“We have complete respect and admiration for Michael and Bryan and the story that they created in the Avatar animated series," said Netflix in an official statement. "Although they have chosen to depart the live action project, we are confident in the creative team and their adaptation.”