As you might have already heard, the creators behind the original Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series are no longer attached to the upcoming live-action Netflix adaptation. This news comes to us through Michael Dante DiMartino’s personal website. Here’s everything we know so far (and perhaps more crucially what we don’t know) about the departure.
DiMartino states that both he and co-creator Bryan Konietzko exited out of the project due to Netflix’s failure to uphold their promise of honoring DiMartino and Konietzko’s vision of the adaptation:
“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. And we expressed how excited we were for the opportunity to be at the helm. Unfortunately, things did not go as we had hoped.– Michael Dante DiMartino
Look, things happen. Productions are challenging. Unforeseen events arise. Plans have to change. And when those things have happened at other points during my career, I try to be like an Air Nomad and adapt. I do my best to go with the flow, no matter what obstacle is put in my way. But even an Air Nomad knows when it’s time to cut their losses and move on.”
In this opinion piece, I will be talking about what I think happened and why this might not necessarily be a bad thing.
First of all, it is clear that this series is not supposed to be some low-budget soap drama made by unknown actors and writers that Netflix (and everyone else) will just forget about after a season. Netflix is adapting the extremely popular Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series into a live-action series. That can not be cheap and Netflix knows that. It’s also worth noting that Netflix has bought the distribution rights to both the original Avatar cartoon and the Legend of Korra sequel series. They have also hired the creators of the original cartoon to be showrunners of this adaptation. Clearly, Netflix is going all in and believes that this series will be very successful. It is obvious that even though something happened between the showrunners and Netflix, both parties still want and have always wanted for this show to be successful.
Before I go on, I want to mention the FandomWire article. FandomWire recently published an article where they explain what they have heard about this situation. They claim that the showrunners wanted a bigger budget and that Netflix did not agree with the showrunner’s vision on a diverse cast. Netflix also wanted to change the tone of the show by “creating a darker, mature tone with more romance, sex, and blood.” Based on our knowledge, this is not the case. Netflix was not against a diverse cast and they were never trying to force a darker tone on the showrunners and the show.
What was the original vision for Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix?
I have done some digging and this is what I have learned about the live-action adaptation: This live-action show is (was?) supposed to be a scene-by-scene adaptation. We have also heard that DiMartino and Konietzko wanted to introduce new, original characters into the series. This is where some of the creative differences could’ve started and been the breaking point neither sides could agree to budge on.
Our theory is that while DiMartino and Konietzko wanted to adapt their beloved cartoon and expand on it through a live-action lense, Netflix did not want to take any risks. It is clear to me that Netflix wanted to copy the animated series and paste it in a live-action format. I mean, can you blame them? We all know that would still be extremely profitable for Netflix, even if it doesn’t add anything creatively.
When you keep this theory in mind, it is obvious why Netflix hired the creators of the original cartoon. They know how to copy their own cartoon the best, instead of some random writer who would put their own (probably awful) spin on it. In my opinion, I think that DiMartino and Konietzko were frustrated about the fact that they weren’t allowed to take much if any, creative liberties on their project. Netflix wanted to play it safe and that did not work for DiMartino and Konietzko because they were promised something different when they signed on.
Furthermore, I also think that miscommunication played a part in all of this. This is a quote from DiMartino’s original statement on why they left the project:
“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.”– Michael Dante DiMartino
This could’ve easily be interpreted in multiple ways. That’s especially true when you circle back to what we heard about how Netflix wanted to adapt the series initially.
Netflix thought that the vision of the creators of the original cartoon was, well, the original cartoon. They stated they would not interfere with their vision. What Netflix is trying to say is that they would not have corporate push concepts into the series that were not part of the original vision of the showrunners (i.e. darker tone, whitewashed cast). Meanwhile, DiMartino and Konietzko had a different, potentially new vision in mind and thought Netflix wanted to support them with it. They wanted to add original characters and probably change the way certain storylines went.
Will Avatar: The Last Airbender be affected by the departures?
Keep in mind that this article is made up of both my opinions and actual inside information on the situation. Maybe something else entirely happened. We might never know. I personally think that I know what happened though. Creatives and corporate hashing it out with a bit of miscommunication thrown into the mix.
I also think that DiMartino and Konietzko leaving the project will not affect the end result massively. As stated before, it is supposed to be a scene-by-scene adaptation. It will most likely still be a scene-by-scene adaptation now that the previous showrunners have left and new ones will be in charge.
The departures are unfortunate, though. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are incredible storytellers and their exit will certainly affect the future of the show, even if it doesn’t change in quality. This is particularly true when you consider the backlash the announcement has seen.
This is not the first time that showrunners have left a Netflix project either, as this same situation has happened before with Netflix’s upcoming superhero epic Jupiter’s Legacy. Let’s hope it does not happen again.