According to sources close to WGTC – the same ones who told us Percy Jackson is being rebooted as a streaming series and Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart had secret cameos in Hobbs & Shaw, all of which were true – the main cast of Netflix’s upcoming live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender will consist exclusively of actors of color.
Of course, it’s probably too early for any of the roles to have been cast yet, but this is said to be a conscious decision on the part of the show’s creators and they won’t be casting any white actors in the lead roles. Which makes sense, as if you take a look at the animated series, you’ll find that a good deal of the leads – such as Katara and Sokka – were drawn with dark skin tones.
Although Aang, Toph and Zuko have thus far been portrayed as white, the cultures to which they belong bear greater semblance to those of the Far East than Europe and America. The Fire Nation, for instance, through its language and architecture, is modeled closely after the Chinese Empire, while the various temples of the Air Nomads were clearly inspired by Buddhist monasteries.
The relationship between real-world representation and fictional storytelling has always been tenuous at best, and that counts double for high fantasy, whose plots often span entire globes. George R.R. Martin, the creator of A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as the books which inspired Game of Thrones, has been criticized for not including more people of color in his work, as has George Lucas from Star Wars.
Martin’s response to this accusation, one which he shares with many writers, is that the internal logic of his story is more important than the social and cultural questions affecting the lives of his audience. Although the author has expressed his deepest sympathies for the quest to make Hollywood a more diverse industry, he continues to defend the overwhelming ‘whiteness’ of Westeros on grounds that he modeled it after England, and set it in a time during which intercontinental travel was not nearly as commonplace as it is in ours.
Of course, every story is different, and as far as Avatar: The Last Airbender is concerned, their decision to portray their leads with actors of color makes sense not only from a political perspective, but a narrative one, too.