Avatar: The Last Airbender is making Sokka less "sexist" — Fans call out how silly that is

Wherein I get way too dramatic about sensitivty, marketability, and the need for remakes of cartoons to reflect modern realities about sexism.
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ian Ousley as Sokka in episode 101 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ian Ousley as Sokka in episode 101 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023 /

On February 22, Netflix will drop the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, its live-action remake of the beloved animated series from the mid-2000s. Avatar is about a group of teenagers charged with bringing peace to a world at war. There's Aang, the bright-eyed Avatar, who can control all four elements; there's Katara, the sensible waterbender who often acts as the voice of reason; and there's her brother Sokka, the sarcastic comic relief character who learns he can do more than that.

The show is making a few changes to Sokka, as actor Kiawentiio — who plays Katara in the new show — outlined to Entertainment Weekly. “I feel like we also took out the element of how sexist [Sokka] was," she said. "I feel like there were a lot of moments in the original show that were iffy.”

Ian Ousley, who plays Sokka, agreed. “Yeah, totally. There are things that were redirected just because it might play a little differently [in live action].”

It's true that Sokka makes some sexist comments early in the series, like in Episode 4, "The Warriors of Kyoshi." When Katara is sewing a tear in Sokka's pants for him, he says, "Girls are better at fixing pants than guys and guys are better at hunting and fighting and stuff like that. It's just the natural order of things.”

It's also true that Katara then throws Sokka's pants back at him unfinished, and he begs her to help him. It's true that in the very first episode of the series, Katara calls him “sexist, immature, [and] nutbrained.” And it's true that in "The Warriors of Kyoshi," Sokka and company meet a group of female warriors who end up teaching Sokka some new skills, laying bare how wrong-headed his beliefs about women are.

Sokka meets several people throughout the original show who challenge and inform his beliefs about gender roles, particularly the Kyoshi warrior Suki and the tough-as-nails earth-bender Toph. By the end of that first season, he's completely changed his attitude. This evolution is a solid little character arc for him, so to hear the actors on the new show justify cutting these parts of Sokka's personality on account of them being "iffy" rings weird to me.

And I'm not the only one. Take this thread about the EW article on the The Last Airbender subreddit, which has more than one thousand upvotes and over 500 comments as of this writing. "The sexism that was a very obvious character arc for him?" writes joftheinternet to over five thousand upvotes. "I mean, fine, but it misses the point." Other commenters are pretty insightful about the value of including a storyline like this. I enjoyed this comment from mastelsa:

"I remember watching the first episode as an 11-year-old and that being the first time I'd ever heard someone say the word 'sexist' on TV, let alone call another character out for it. It was really big to have that explicitly stated and called out in a cartoon, and Sokka didn't do or say anything in the show that I didn't regularly witness boys my age and older doing or saying in real life. I have a hard time believing that that low-grade everyday sexism is just completely nonexistent in Gen Alpha--I don't see why they'd feel the need to take that part of Sokka's behavior out."

Last year, a YouGov poll concluded that over half of children aged 6-15 have heard of Andrew Tate, a commenter known for his extreme misogynistic views. It also found that one in six boys in that age group have a positive view of Tate. So I share mastelsa's skepticism about sexism no longer being a problem that affects young people. The producers of Avatar: The Last Airbender — a show that hopes to draw in a wide audience of all ages — have a question to ask themselves: do they want to pretend like sexism doesn't exist, to "[take] out the element of how sexist [Sokka] was" and water down his character a bit; or do they want to include this storyline where a most admirable character comes to understand the error of their ways, and stand a chance of reaching some young person before their budding sexist views come into full bloom?

Avatar: The Last Airbender. Kiawentiio as Katara in episode 101 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023 /

Okay, let's not be quite this dramatic about Avatar: The Last Airbender

It's possible I'm reading way too far into this. In the grand scope of the show, Sokka's sexism is not a huge part of his character. The original Last Airbender show had 20 episodes to work with in its first season, while the Netflix show only has eight. Even if the Netflix episodes are much longer, some things still need to get cut. Maybe's Sokka's arc was part of that.

But Kiawentiio makes it sound like cutting Sokka's arc was intentional, although even here there's room for skepticism, since Kiawentiio is an actor and not a producer or writer. But I know this: if the producers of Avatar: The Last Airbender chose to cut this part of Sokka's character out of the new show, it doesn't feel like feminism to me. It feels like fear, specifically fear that making Sokka more complicated will make him less likable and therefore less marketable, or else fear of a social media backlash, which is unfounded because those are more or less bound to happen no matter what you do, those Reddit threads being a good case in point.

Writing for The A.V. Club, Mary Kate Carr draws a parallel to last year's live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, based on the 1989 animated Disney movie. The new movie cuts a line from the song "Poor Unfortunate Souls," which is sung by the villain of the piece, Ursula ("The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber/They think a girl who gossips is a bore”). According to songwriter Alan Menken, the line was cut because it “might make young girls somehow feel that they shouldn’t speak out of turn." But as Carr points out, "within the context of the film the message was obviously wrong and bad—it’s part of what makes Ursula a villain in the first place. As with the misogyny in A:TLA, this change doesn’t improve the source material but rather sandpapers down interesting edges that make the material real, interesting, and thought-provoking."

Again, I (and everyone else writing about this) could be making too big a deal of things; when the show comes out next month, this discourse may well be forgotten. But it does rankle to see shows and movies sacrifice rough edges and reality for fear of offending, even when those rough edges are presented in context. A lot of those live-action Disney remakes have passed in one ear and out the other like so much empty air, and I'd hate for this new take on Avatar: The Last Airbender, a show that I have fond memories of, to do the same.

Next. avatar. Every actor in Netflix’s Avatar: the Last Airbender remake (and who they’re playing). dark

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