Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Sokka star defends Netflix adaptation against outrage over character change

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Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Ian Ousley, who stars as Sokka in Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the popular animated show, has reassured fans that his character’s changes are not that dramatic.

Last month, the 21-year-old Ousley and his co-star Kiawentiio spoke with Entertainment Weekly about the deliberate changes made to the live-action version.

“There’s more weight with realism in every way,” Ousley acknowledged at the time, while Kiawentiio added: “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.”

Ousley agreed: “There are things that were redirected just because it might play a little differently [in live action].”

Their comments ignited fan outrage as many felt that Sokka’s sexism played an integral part in his character arc across the three-season cartoon series.

Addressing the concern in a new interview with GamesRadar+, Ousley said: “The animated show really is the heart and soul of what our live-action show is. We were not trying to take out anything.

“Obviously we took out that [sexist] element, but he still has that attitude. Not a sexist attitude, but it’s morphed into more of – in Sokka and Katara’s relationship – ‘I’m the leader and you’re the follower’ situation. Stuff like that.”

Kiawentiio and Ian Ousley in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ (Netflix)
Kiawentiio and Ian Ousley in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ (Netflix)

He continued: “He’s still the Sokka we know and love from the cartoon. I don’t even think fans would notice some of those things, honestly, [when] watching our show… He definitely still has his arcs and his lessons in the show.”

In an earlier interview with Variety, the series showrunner, Albert Kim, teased that the live-action version will not begin the same way as its predecessor. He also said that it would depict the genocide of the Airbender people, as well as the rise of the Fire Nation, both of which were only alluded to in the original.

“That was a conscious decision to show people this is not the animated series,” Kim said. “We had to sometimes unravel storylines and remix them in a new way to make sense for a serialised drama. So I’m very curious to see what’ll happen in terms of reaction to that.”

The beloved children’s show originally ran from 2005 to 2008 on Nickelodeon. It followed the story of a young boy known as the Avatar, who must master all four elemental powers – wind, earth, fire and air – to save the world from the Fire Nation.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is out now on Netflix.