Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender Has Found Its Heroes (and Villain)

Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender Has Found Its Heroes (and Villain)
Contributor: Charles Pulliam-Moore

News about Netflix’s live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender show stalled for some time after co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko announced they were jumping ship for Nickelodeon’s new Avatar Studios, which is also working on even more stories about elemental benders. For a time, it seemed as if the Netflix project might not happen, but today we learned that’s not the case.

Netflix’s announced not only that its new take on The Last Airbender is still in production, but revealed the core cast and creative team behind the series. In a statement about the show, showrunner Albert Kim (Sleepy Hollow) explained how he’d become a big fan of the franchise while watching it with his young daughter during its initial air on Nickelodeon. By the time Kim wound up being approached by Netflix about the show, the Avatar franchise had already become a phenomenon with an infamously terrible adaptation to its name. Despite Kim’s hesitation about trying to bring bending to life again, what ultimately pushed him to sign on was his belief that “VFX technology has advanced to the point where a live-action version can not only faithfully translate what had been done in animation — it can bring a rich new visual dimension to a fantastic world.”

He added, “We’ll be able to see bending in a real and visceral way we’ve never seen before.” Of course, all the gorgeous VFX bending in the world means nothing without benders to actually perform it, and Netflix also announced the actors who will be portraying the kids that come to form Team Avatar. Gordon Cormier (Lost in Space, The Stand) is set to play Aang, the 12-year-old Avatar who was once lost to time. Kiawentiio (What If, Anne With an E), will portray teenaged waterbending prodigy Katara, and Ian Ousley (13 Reasons Why, Sorry For Your Loss) will play her older warrior-in-training brother, Sokka. In addition, the role of Zuko has gone to Dallas Liu (PEN15).

Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender Has Found Its Heroes (and Villain)
Image: Netflix

The new show’s cast of predominantly Asian and Indigenous actors immediately sets it apart from the animated Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, and M. Night Shyamalan’s feature film, all of which led with white actors to realise fictional worlds inspired by actual Asian and Indigenous cultures. In addition to Netflix’s format allowing for the expansion on narrative beats from the original series, Kim also emphasised how The Last Airbender’s casting is a reflection of the creative team’s desire to “establish a new benchmark in representation and bring in a whole new generation of fans.”

“[T]hroughout this process, our byword has been ‘authenticity,’” Kim said. “To the story. To the characters. To the cultural influences. Authenticity is what keeps us going, both in front of the camera and behind it, which is why we’ve assembled a team unlike any seen before — a group of talented and passionate artists who are working around the clock to bring this rich and incredibly beautiful world to life.”

Dan Lin (The Lego Movie, Aladdin), Lindsey Liberatore (Walker), Michael Goi (Swamp Thing, American Horror Story) will serve as Avatar: The Last Airbender’s executive producers, with Goi, Roseanne Liang, and Jabbar Raisani also directing. Currently, there’s no word on when Avatar: The Last Airbender is set to begin production, but watch this space for more news as it develops.

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