If you got into Avatar: The Last Airbender, or revisited your love for it, thanks to its availability on Netflix this summer, congrats! It’s a good show. If you were hoping Netflix’s plans for a live-action remake were going to give you more Avatar to get excited about, we have some bad news. Few Hollywood projects are as cursed as attempts to make Avatar live action, and this one is seemingly no different. Michael Dante DiMartino, who created The Last Airbender and its sequel series, Korra, with Bryan Konietzko, has shared an open letter saying that the two of them are no longer involved in Netflix’s live-action series. “When Bryan and I signed on to the project in 2018, we were hired as executive producers and showrunners. In a joint announcement for the series, Netflix said that it was committed to honoring our vision for this retelling and to supporting us on creating the series,” DiMartino writes. “And we expressed how excited we were for the opportunity to be at the helm. Unfortunately, things did not go as we had hoped.” Konietzko made his own statement on Instagram, claiming that there was “no follow-through” on Netflix’s promise to support the creators’ vision, and that he felt it was a “negative and unsupportive environment.”
The Netflix series is the second attempt to translate Avatar from “hamburger anime” to live action, after M. Night Shyamalan’s disastrous 2010 film. That movie was criticized, among other failures, for its whitewashed cast, and when Netflix announced plans for its reboot in 2018, DiMartino and Konietzko touted the fact that the new series would feature “a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast” (notably, most of the voice cast on the original series was also white). In his open letter, DiMartino does not elaborate on the creative differences that led to his split with Netflix but says that he “realized I couldn’t control the creative direction of the series, but I could control how I responded.” He insists that this is not the end of his involvement in the Avatar universe, and that “stories and characters are important to me and the renewed interest and excitement in Avatar and Korra has been inspiring to see,” but stresses that whatever direction the Netflix project is headed is not where he and Konietzko intended to go. “Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar has the potential to be good. It might turn out to be a show many of you end up enjoying,” he writes. “But what I can be certain about is that whatever version ends up on-screen, it will not be what Bryan and I had envisioned or intended to make.”
A spokesperson for Netflix confirmed that Konietzko and DiMartino have left the project. “We have complete respect and admiration for Michael and Bryan and the story that they created in the Avatar animated series,” Netflix said in a statement. “Although they have chosen to depart the live-action project, we are confident in the creative team and their adaptation.”
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