Director Michael Goi Exited A Previous Project For Netflix’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Because What It Could Mean For Asian Representation (EXCLUSIVE)

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We at Knight Edge Media recently attended a virtual Q&A with director Michael Goi hosted by The Greater Los Angeles JACL. During the hour-long virtual presentation, the director recounted wanting to be a filmmaker at a young age and growing up in the city of Chicago in a Japanese-American household.

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The director eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career in the industry but soon learned there were not many Asian cinematographers or directors represented, even in the 1990s. Never-the-Less, Goi believed the only way to change that was to work from inside the industry and build up his resume as a filmmaker. He soon became known as a quick and efficient cinematographer around Hollywood on small-budget movies before making the move to the director’s chair. He eventually got a big break to work in television on Glee, Sleepy Hollow, and then American Horror Story in the 2010s.

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Goi revealed that during the height of the COVID-pandemic in 2020 many Asian Americans were targeted online with hateful messages due to their Asian ethnicity. As NPR reported in 2021, there have been over 9,000 anti-Asian incidents since the beginning of the pandemic. Goi even shared some DM’s he personally received showcasing the hate. After the incident, Goi was called personally by Avatar: The Last Airbender showrunner Albert Kim (Nikita). Kim and Goi worked together on Sleepy Hollow for Fox. Kim wanted to interview Goi for the position of director and executive producer on the upcoming Netflix episodic. Unfortunately, Goi was already attached to another project, at the time, and he has only ever walked away from a project once before but for a noble reason. A low-budget film’s lead was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Goi left his previous project and joined the low-budget film in Texas at the request of the film’s producer. Due to his quick and efficient filmmaking, they were able to complete the film with her limited time and energy.

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However, after Albert Kim explained his vision for the series, following the departure of original show creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino, would feature an all-Asian and Indigenous cast (just like the original show). As well as featuring an all-Asian writing and directing team, Goi quickly saw what this could mean for Asian representation in the film industry. Let alone what it could mean for Asian fans throughout the country during the pandemic. He called up showrunner Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek: Discovery) and explained why he needed to exit the untitled project for Avatar: The Last Airbender. Kurtzman was ecstatic at the prospect of an all-Asian directing/writing team. He gave his blessing and released Goi from his contract.

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avatar the last airbender netflix cast crew

During the Q&A portion of the virtual event, we asked the director about when he had heard of the series and to expand upon his initial reaction to an all-Asian cast & crew in terms of representation:

“I was a fan of the original animated show. So I had heard about some of the things going on regarding the live-action adaptation. I had heard Mike & Bryan, the original creators, had left the show at a certain point. But because it was Albert Kim that I knew and worked with previously was now the showrunner calling me and asking me if I wanted to interview for it, that kind of centered my thoughts. I know Albert, I know the kind of filmmaker he is. I know the kind of writer he is. And he was going to preserve the heart of the show and I think he has.”

He goes on to say:

“And when the show ultimately does come out, which I don’t know when [Netflix] will drop the episodes. It’s going to be a big deal. It’s going to be a big deal because every single person in that cast is Asian. Every single director we hired for the entire show is Asian. It’s an enormous demonstration of Asian representation. So I’m looking forward to that time but there’s a lot of visual effects to finish before that happens.”

Goi went on to direct and serve as cinematographer on the first two episodes of the upcoming series. He also was given an Executive Producer credit as well along with Dan Lin (The LEGO Movie, Two Popes) of Rideback Ranch. Directors Roseanne Liang (Shadow in the Cloud), Jabbar Haisani (Lost in Space), and Jet Wilkinson (Percy Jackson) all boarded the series for the reminder episodes. We at Knight Edge Media also revealed Albert Kim’s daughter and Marvel Comics writer Emily Kim was part of the all-Asian writer’s room on Avatar.

If anyone you know has been affected by Asian or South Pacific hate, you can report the incident at StopAAPIHate.org

Avatar: The Last Airbender will stream exclusively on Netflix

 

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