Avatar: The Last Airbender, an animated series so beloved that somebody did an oral history on one of its smallest characters, is currently being developed as a live-action series at Netflix, one that could presumably wash away the bad taste of that garbage M. Night Shyamalan movie. We expressed trepidation at the news when it was announced in 2018, comparing the effort to Icarus’ ill-fated flight alongside the sun. Sadly, our pessimism appears to have been warranted.
In a letter posted to his website, one of the show’s shepherds, Michael DiMartino, says he has left the project alongside Bryan Konietzko, with whom he created the original series. “Many of you have been asking me for updates about the Avatar live-action Netflix series,” he writes. “I can finally tell you that I am no longer involved with the project. In June of this year, after two years of development work, Bryan Konietzko and I made the difficult decision to leave the production.”
DiMartino goes on to say that, while Netflix said it was “committed to honoring our vision for this retelling,” he and Konietzko eventually lost control of the creative direction of the adaptation. “Look, things happen. Productions are challenging. Unforeseen events arise. Plans have to change,” he writes. ‘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.”
The live-action series is still moving forward with with Nickelodeon, executive producer Dan Lin, and his Rideback production company. As DiMartino writes, however, “whatever version ends up on-screen, it will not be what Bryan and I had envisioned or intended to make.”
Avatar, a series about a many-lived 100-year-old warrior-monk child (with a lovable air bison friend) who can control the elements of fire, earth, air, and water, ran for three seasons on Nickelodeon between 2005 and 2008, though it’s experienced a resurgence in popularity after landing on Netflix. A sequel series, The Legend of Korra, premiered a few years later—just today we published a breakdown of its 10 most impactful episodes.
Read the full letter below:
Many of you have been asking me for updates about the Avatar live-action Netflix series. I can finally tell you that I am no longer involved with the project. In June of this year, after two years of development work, Bryan Konietzko and I made the difficult decision to leave the production.
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.
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.
I started to reevaluate what is truly important in my life and what I wanted to do with what’s left of it. I took some advice from Uncle Iroh. I looked inward and started asking myself the big question: “Who are you and what do you want?”
I also sought wisdom from Stoic philosophers who were big on differentiating between what is within our control and what isn’t. I realized I couldn’t control the creative direction of the series, but I could control how I responded. So, I chose to leave the project. It was the hardest professional decision I’ve ever had to make, and certainly not one that I took lightly, but it was necessary for my happiness and creative integrity.
And who knows? 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. 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.
I also want to be clear that this doesn’t mean the end of my involvement in the Avatar universe. These stories and characters are important to me and the renewed interest and excitement in Avatar and Korra has been inspiring to see.
Writing this letter has left me with a very heavy heart. I know many of you will be disappointed and frustrated by this news. I get it. I share your disappointment and frustration. I also recognize this creative setback is small compared to the problems we’re all facing as a society right now.
Thankfully, Iroh offered some wisdom for that, too: “Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving you will come to a better place.”
May we all keep moving and come to a better place.
Thanks for reading and for your continued enthusiasm for the Avatar universe.
Michael Dante DiMartino
UPDATE (4:02 p.m. CT): Netflix has released a statement: “We have complete respect and admiration for Michael and Bryan and the story that they created in the Avatar animated series,” the streamer said in a statement. “Although they have chosen to depart the live-action project, we are confident in the creative team and their adaptation.”