Maria Zhang as Suki in Avatar: The Last Airbender
(Netflix)

Netflix’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Doesn’t Understand Feminism

Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is out and I have so many thoughts on it. First and foremost, this show doesn’t understand feminism, and removing Sokka’s sexism was a mistake.

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As we’ve talked about before, fans got word of the Netflix show removing Sokka’s misogyny weeks before it aired. If you’re not familiar, in early season 1 of the animated series, Sokka is pretty much a jerk to women. He stereotypes his sister as being more suited to household work, while Real Men go hunting and fighting. He makes fun of the Kyoshi warriors and boasts about his superior male strength.

The shoe eventually drops for Sokka in season 1, episode 4, “The Warriors of Kyoshi.” Sokka happens upon the Kyoshi warriors mid-training and gets challenged to a fight by Suki, after spewing misogynist taunts at the women.

Suffice it to say, he gets completely humbled, enough to realize that he had been an awful person to women the whole time. He apologizes to the Kyoshi warriors and asks to join them in training. They accept, and Sokka puts on a traditional Kyoshi outfit proudly, despite it resembling women’s dress robes.

This scene changes Sokka’s character forever. He never again makes a sexist remark toward Katara or any other woman. It’s not just a poignant character development, but a powerful message for young men watching the show. It teaches them that they don’t have to accept toxic masculinity. They can disavow their misogyny and become allies to women.

So, why would the team behind the Netflix adaptation choose to discard such important character growth? According to an interview done with Entertainment Weekly, some of the cast members spoke up about parts of the original show they believed were a bit dated. Kiawentiio Tarbell, who plays Katara in the Netflix adaptation, said “I feel like we also took out the element of how sexist [Sokka] was. I feel like there were a lot of moments in the original show that were iffy.”

It stands to reason that the production team took Sokka’s sexism out because they thought it was an outdated relic. This is far from the truth. The original writers of ATLA were fully aware of what they were doing and made it very clear that this view of women was wrong and should be met with mockery.

Without that process of humiliation-introspection-acceptance, the episode and Sokka are flattened into a bog standard romance story. In the Netflix show, the Gaang meets the Kyoshi warriors in season 1, episode 2, “Warriors.” Sokka does not go through any humiliation or introspection. He gets the girl right off the bat without having to do anything at all.

It’s the same boy-meets-girl story only without the significantly more interesting gender angle going on. And honestly, that makes it so much worse. Feminism isn’t really about being a non-sexist, perfect ally from day 1. More so, feminism is about realizing that you have biases that you need to work on. Most men are conditioned into varying degrees of misogyny and must unlearn this behavior over time.

To make matters worse, the Netflix show ends up keeping sexism anyway, just poorly done. Season 1, episode 7, “The North,” has the Gaang finally reach the Northern Water Tribe. Katara manages to find a waterbending master there named Pakku, who tells Katara that women aren’t allowed to learn combat in their society.

Furious at this, Katara challenges Pakku to a fight. In the original show, it’s revealed that Pakku was engaged to Katara and Sokka’s Gran Gran, but she left the Northern Water Tribe because of its misogynist customs. This realization forces Pakku to realize that he was wrong to act that way to Katara, and thus agrees to teach her and Aang.

Look, I’m not a big fan of how the OG show handled this, as it’s a cheap convenience that doesn’t get to the heart of misogyny. However, the Netflix show scrubbed this Gran Gran connection and realization entirely, leaving us with pretty much nothing. Pakku realizes Katara is a powerful bender and thus agrees to teach her. The harmful message is clear: If you’re a talented woman, you are worthy enough to escape sexism.

This is just one of many mistakes the Netflix show has made, but in my opinion, the most egregious. We need more TV shows about men accepting that they suck and learning to become allies to women and proper feminists.

(featured image: Netflix)


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Author
Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson (he/they) writes about media criticism, race studies, intersectional feminism, and left-wing politics. He has experience writing for The Mary Sue, Cracked.com, Bunny Ears, Static Media, and The Crimson White. His Twitter can be found here: https://twitter.com/8bitStereo