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Netflix’s Avatar Adaptation Should Keep Sokka’s Controversial Character Arc

Summary

  • The producers of Netflix’s
    Avatar
    adaptation are making changes to Sokka’s character arc, which has sparked concern among fans.
  • Sokka’s initial sexist views in the show are transformed into flaws that he overcomes, making his character development relatable and inspirational.
  • Removing Sokka’s character arc would not only sideline a beloved character but also miss an opportunity to educate and challenge problematic behavior, which was a key aspect of the original series.



When adapting any animated show to live-action, there will always be certain aspects that require change and alterations for the narrative to work in the new medium. Character designs and elaborate action set pieces must be altered to work in live-action and fit within the available budget. However, the golden rule of adapting any narrative from one medium to another is not to touch a beloved character’s arc. The producers for Netflix’s upcoming Avatar: The Last Airbender are reportedly breaking that rule, and fans are worried.


The support for Netflix’s Avatar adaptation has seen constant ebbs and flows since its announcement in 2018. The new ‘re-imagining’ was initially met with skepticism – which can’t be helped from a fan base that had to deal with M. Night Shyamalan’s terrible live-action movie. However, as first-look images and sneak peeks were released, the large majority of the fan base slowly found themselves being won over. But now, with the latest announcement about changes to Sokka’s character arc, many fans feel the series could fail once again.


Sokka Isn’t Controversial, He’s Flawed


In an interview with Entertainment Weekly to promote the upcoming series, actress Kiawentiio Tarbell (who plays Katara in the new series) discussed the changes to Sokka’s character in the new show.


“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.”


In the show’s earlier seasons, Sokka starts as a typically masculine, borderline male chauvinist character, with stereo-typically masculine views that men are always stronger than women. This character trait follows him like a dark cloud in the first few episodes, and admittedly, on first viewings, it does come off as “iffy” – as Kiawentiio described it. However, it only takes a few episodes before Sokka’s views about masculinity and gender roles are challenged when he meets the Kyoshi Warriors – an entirely female fighting force named and styled after the famous Avatar.


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This encounter with the warriors, particularly Suki, drastically alters Sokka’s narrative arc, transforming his ‘problematic’ elements – which they would be if left untouched – into flaws, which the character slowly overcomes and outgrows as the show progresses. Sokka’s internal arc is one of the show’s most understated but important as his development shares verisimilitude with the real world. As inspiring as Zuko’s redemption arc and as emotional as Aang’s internal conflict with violence are, Sokka’s story of overcoming sexist behavior has the most real-world relatability and application.


Sokka’s arc wasn’t only influential on young men, as it emphasized the cavalcade of strong female characters within the show. Alongside Katara, Toph, and Suki, Avatar: The Last Airbender features countless strong and independent female characters. While these are obviously inspiring in their own right, the interactions and comparisons between these characters and Sokka’s initially sexist viewpoints only emphasize their strength and inspirational qualities.



The other issue with removing this aspect of Sokka’s character is that his changing beliefs are his primary character arc. The show introduces smaller arcs later on in the show, like his growth as a swordsman, but the majority of Sokka’s internal conflict stems from his reluctant growth as a man and his changing attitudes towards the women around him. If Netflix is truly cutting Sokka’s ‘problematic’ behavior, they will need to create and establish a new arc to stop one of the most beloved characters in the Avatar franchise from feeling sidelined.

Problematic Behavior Should Be Challenged, Not Hidden


The issues surrounding the changes to Sokka’s character go beyond an angry fan base; they set a worrying, unproductive precedent. The original animated series was groundbreaking in its attitudes toward progressiveness and social change, and it achieved this by tackling ‘problematic’ subjects and behavior head-on.


In the age of social media and online trolling, offensive and problematic behavior is quickly silenced and shut down, but this does nothing to change the views of the offending people. It is fighting ignorance with ignorance. Avatar: The Last Airbender got so much right and left such a lasting impression on thousands of young men about equality and sexism because it chose to include, address, and overcome these subjects. If Netflix’s series does fully remove these aspects, it misses out on the chance to educate and change the attitudes of thousands (if not millions, knowing the size of Netflix’s platform) of young people.


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Without Sokka’s character arc, Netflix’s adaptation can still be a good (if not a great) show, but it is slowly removing the heart and message of the original series. Fans will have to wait to see if Netflix does decide to completely ax this side of Sokka’s character or if Kiawentiio’s claim is just an accidental overstatement. Either way, the skepticism of the fan base will never truly be settled until the show is released. Avatar: The Last Airbender premieres on Netflix on Feb. 22.


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