EDITORIAL: Other Real World Cultures Netflix Could Introduce In ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

Principle photography on Netflix’s upcoming live-action adaption of Avatar: The Last Airbender is just around the corner. While many fans were upset, the original animated show creators Bryan Konietzko and Mike DiMartino exited the project last year due to creative differences. The streaming service has still pressed forward with the project hiring Nikita showrunner Albert Kim to take over.

The main concern by fans is if the live-action series will stay true to the original shows’ source material by hiring ethically correct actors. The original show’s fantasy cultures Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, Air Nomads, and Water Tribes, are based on the real-life cultures of Imperial Japan, Ancient Chinese, Tibetan, and Native American respectfully. Netflix seems to be making good on its promise. They have already hired East/South Asian actors in the role of Aang (Gordon Cormier), Zuko (Dallas Liu), and Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim). As well as hiring Indigenous Native American actors in the role of Katara (Kiawentiio) and Sokka (Ian Ousley). However, what other real-world cultures could they introduce into this fantasy world?

While many of the Air Nomads in the original show take inspiration from Tibetan monks. Air Nomads are also based on the Buddhist/Hindu religions. The Air Nomads never tried to build majestic kingdoms, as they wanted to travel the world and reach spiritual enlightenment. Another culture they could infuse in the Air Nomads would be East Indian/Pakistani actors as Air Nomads. The show hinted towards East Indian culture when Aang traveled to a deserted Air Temple and met Guru Pathik in season 2. He called himself a spiritual brother to the Air Nomads and mentored Aang about his spiritual chakras. East Indians have had deep routes in both Buddhist/Hindu cultures throughout their history. It would seem like a no-brainer to have East Indian/Pakistani actors in these roles beyond classic Shaolin/Tibetan.

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Next, another real-world culture that the studio should consider would be Mexican actors in the roles of the Sun Warriors of the Fire Nation. The Sun Warriors were introduced in season 3 of the original show as the first people to learn firebending from the dragons. While the Fire Nation derive their inspiration from Imperial Japan, the show’s artwork indicates that the Sun Warriors were inspired by Aztec/Mayan culture. The streaming series could go a step further and hire Indigenous Mexican/South American actors in the roles. Their cultural heritage has never really been shown before in a fantasy show. Apocalypto cast indigenous Mexican actors in the film’s main roles to play ancient south American Mayans.

Finally, a real-world culture that has been shown is that of Afro-Indigenous cultures from the southeastern United States. These sub-cultures have roots that derive from both Native Americans and African ancestry. In the original show, a small group of waterbenders lives in a secluded area of the Earth Kingdom known simply as The Swamp. While for comedic reasons, the show cast southern white voice actors for the roles. The streaming service could take it a step further and model the Swamp People (or Swamp Clan) off of Afro-Indigenous culture. It would stay true to waterbenders and their Native American roots and introduce African culture into the world of Avatar. They could even introduce Louisiana creole culture or the Swamp People as well. The streaming service could cast southern African-American actors in the roles.  To his credit director, M. Night Shamayalan tried to introduce an African earthbending town in his original 2010 film, but the scene was ultimately cut.

Avatar: The Last Airbender will stream exclusively on Netflix

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