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The Depiction of Mothers and Motherhood in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra  (Spoilers!)

Originally, these were just notes jotted down for the review of Gene Yang’s The Search (since that graphic novel reveals what happened to Ursa and explores the theme of Motherhood) but it seems like they might be useful to the broader conversation about the depiction of mothers in Avatar and Korra.   (Hopefully I’m not missing any important characters!)

A couple of things I noticed upon rewatch were that whenever the original Gaang met a family, usually the mom would defer to the dad (eg. the mom’s of Haru, Lee, Toph, Mai, etc.)   We see this deference to the husband in Korra, as well (Unulaq’s wife doesn’t know what’s up.   Senna is relatively passive about Korra’s upbringing and the rebellion compared to the deeply engaged Tonraq.)   While the worldbuilding has established that the setting is patriarchal, we know that what is expected by society shouldn’t necessarily be reflected in what we see in practice.   (For example, my grandmother was raised in a patriarchal society and expected to defer to her husband, but that doesn’t mean it actually happened—and she was far from being an exception among her peers.)

In many of the examples above, where the name of the mother is not given, we do know the name and identity of the character’s father.  (Frequently, the mother will be dead.)  The only significant example reversing this trope is the identity of Lin Beifong’s father—and in this case, the identity of her mother is known because she is a main character in the original series.   The only other example of this that I can think of is that we don’t know the name of Kanna’s first husband (Hakoda’s father.)

I don’t think we need to know the names of every single parent of characters in the series.   Obviously, it is based on the demands of the plot.   In this case, the plot the writers have created prioritizes the roles of the fathers, and that reinforces patriarchal tropes.

Hope these notes help generate discussion around representations of women and mothers in Avatar.   Interested in hearing what people think!

Reblogged from bryankonietzko  24,748 notes


This past Friday I published this post which featured a photo of a monitor showing Katara and Aang’s grown-up children, Bumi, Kya, and Tenzin. Later that night at work I saw Colin’s answer to an anonymous “ask” (I can’t figure out how to link or reblog it properly in my browser, so the screen shot at the top will have to suffice). It is a shame the anonymous asker drew an incorrect assumption based on one image created in relatively uncontrolled conditions, and I feel that Colin’s answer hit the nail on the head.

Normally I would leave it at that. I prefer to stay out of this type of discourse on Tumblr and let the large body of work Mike and I have put out there over the years speak for itself (which obviously DOES NOT include the gross misinterpretations and misrepresentations of our work in this guy’s work). There’s nothing perfect about me or my work, but I am proud of it and the diverse, inclusive, atypical-for-American-TV world it portrays and the characters that populate it, and what it means to many people all over this globe.

But, like most people, I don’t like seeing the spreading of misinformation, nor being falsely accused of something, nor fans of Avatar and Korra believing we have let them down regarding a very sensitive issue when they are mistaken. The claim that “none of Katara and Aang’s kids share Katara’s complexion” is unequivocally false. Kya’s color model shares the exact same skin color as Katara’s; Tenzin’s skin is a touch darker and less saturated than Aang’s; and Bumi’s is just about in the middle of his siblings’. I made a color swatch chart above, with all the colors taken directly from the characters’ normal color models. I included Korra’s and her parents’ skin tones on there as well, just for reference. I also compiled screen shots of all the characters with the color picker open, sampling their skin tones. You can see for yourself that Katara and her daughter Kya share the same color code: #bd916f

Depicting diverse characters is an issue that is very important to me. But as an art director, depicting a variety of lighting situations, light temperatures, colored light sources, color atmospheres, contrast levels, dynamic ranges, tinted filters, tones, styles, moods, exposure settings, diffusion levels, etc., is all very important to me too, all in an attempt to make great, inspired, sophisticated, beautiful art that reflects something of the complex world in which we live.

Real flesh and blood skin is shiny in places, matte in others, translucent, reflective, uneven, smooth in places, textured in others. It reacts to light and color in such complex ways that while most people rarely even think about it in our normal day experiences, the properties are so intricate and subtle that mastering its accurate representation eludes students of painting such as myself for years on end. On the other hand, 2D cartoon character skin is a flat field of projected or printed color. It is an abstracted, simplified representation. If one adds lighting to a 2D animated character, that whole color field of skin tone is lightened––uniformly, unless you apply a the few limited techniques at our disposal in TV animation involving gradations. If one adds lighting to real flesh and blood skin, highlights and core shadows are formed, light models surfaces and bounces onto others, colors are reflected from surrounding objects… on and on. 3D animation certainly has many more tools at its disposal to depict skin in a realistic fashion, but even that isn’t a cakewalk and many attempts plummet into the uncanny valley.

As Colin made reference to, color theory is an incredibly fascinating, frustrating, and bewildering pursuit. I’ve been studying and trying to apply it for twenty years, and I’m still in its awe. There are so many factors to consider before trusting your own perception. For example, in the image above with the characters’ heads, Kya’s skin appears to my eye to be slightly lighter than Katara’s, despite the fact that I know they are absolutely the same color. This is most likely due to the effect of simultaneous contrast, also known as contrast effect: in simple terms, colors are pushed lighter, darker, warmer, and cooler based on what other colors are next to them. I’ve taken a sample of Korra’s normal skin tone and applied it to an illustration with a painted background and all of a sudden it looks green. On another background it might appear gray. Or bright orange. The average 2D animated show out there in the world has stock normal color models for its characters that they use for almost every scene (occasionally with a “night” version that is a bit darker and cooler). Typically the character models are presented in a vacuum, with no change in lighting, atmosphere, contrast, etc… no regard for any of the artistic properties mentioned above that I am trying to utilize in my animation art direction.

I’m not going to make that kind of show. Instead, I’m going to add lighting, change contrast levels, mix up the colors of light sources, try to inject some atmosphere into the world we’re creating. And as a result, characters’ skin tones are going to appear different depending on the context of the scene. The colors on a normal color model sheet are what’s called local color in color theory. This is the color of an object in neutral, even light. But it’s just a starting point, a flat color field in a vacuum. On Avatar we dialed every single color model from its normal model to match the lighting and color atmosphere of the background painting for each sequence in all sixty-one episodes. On Korra we do that too, and take it many steps further by adding lighting and atmosphere effects in the compositing stage, all in a pursuit of a dramatic, cinematic aesthetic. Sometimes it works out and I’m satisfied with the results. Sometimes the effects are too heavy-handed and even I’m saying, “His/her skin looks too light!” Unfortunately, this is a TV show production where we are frantically making dozens of episodes at once and we don’t get to finesse the final composites like they are able to do in feature productions. I fix what I can in retakes and color correction, but there’s only so much I can do. But I’d rather have a few fumbles in the pursuit of good art than make a flat show with no lighting or atmosphere.

And I enjoy sharing sneak peeks of the work we’re making with you guys, which often means I take a snapshot on my iPhone or DSLR of a screen and post it on Tumblr. Take a look at the last compilation of images above to see how differently colors, particularly skin tones, can vary depending on their sources. This opens up another vastly complex subject of which I am a frustrated student: photography. Take color theory and multiply it by optical engineering and then by computer science and then pull all of your hair out as you try to get your meticulously processed photo to appear the same color and contrast level on a variety of digital devices and non-color-managed web browsers and non-color-calibrated monitors. Or try the simpler task of taking a picture of something on a TV screen and see how different the photo looks than the image you saw. Everything goes out the window. While you’re at it, take digital pictures of the same red apple at different times of day, in different rooms, under different lights, outside in different weather. Then pull all of those photos into your computer and make color swatches of what you thought you knew to be “red.” Then try painting a picture of that apple using just those sampled color swatches. You’ll start to see how complex this all is.

I am all for social justice and breaking down ignorance and oppressive, hurtful social constructs, particularly when the path to that is to inform, educate, open minds, and promote empathy and equality. I am not a fan of self-righteousness in any form and I struggle to keep from drifting in that direction with my own views and convictions. The internet provides a great platform to call BS on a lot of things, and I encourage people to use it for that. But now that you have the official local color swatches of these characters’ “normal” skin tones in the image above, I can assure you that using it like some Behr color chip ammunition to lambast every fanart depiction of Korra that doesn’t match #a08365 is a flawed pursuit. Ask yourself if any of the things listed above in this post might be factoring into a color variation before you shoot from the hip with your judgement. And if the depiction of Korra in some fanart is without a doubt offensive to you, consider phrasing your response in a way that could help them see it your way. Art is hard! Maybe he or she is trying to get the hang of painting and working with color (skin being one of the hardest things to master). Maybe he or she is still ignorant to the worldly views that are obvious and significant to you. You could take this opportunity to turn it into what they call in parenting “a teaching moment.” You could open some eyes and educate someone who might turn around and share their enlightenment with many others.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of all there is to discuss on this topic in this overlong post. But I urge you to consider any number of the factors listed and described above before you jump to false conclusions, get your feelings hurt, or lash out with self-righteous condemnation based on a variable rather than a constant.

Love, Bryan

Bryan Konietzko directly addresses fan concerns about whitewashing and shares some thoughts and information about the production. A must-read for Avatar fans and for anyone who is interested in diversity in character animation.

(And whoa he was up until 2:30am writing this?!?!)

Reblogged from lorienmizar  187 notes

Inequity amongst Air Nomads?


this is our revolution: love4sora replied to your post: Just gonna settle one thing. No, I’m…


imagelove4sora replied to your post: Just gonna settle one thing. No, I’m not asking…

…You couldn’t POSSIBLY have anything against Tenzin though. D8

My only problems with Tenzin besides only teaching her for two episodes before dropping out of training her altogether it seemed, actually…

Actually, I have another complain about Tenzin: He is such a good MASTER with his air acolytes SERVANTS.

I mean, look at the Air Temple social structure, we never heard any air acolyte (well, the midwife said two short sentences), they just are just there cleaning, fixing Korra’s mess, carrying Asami’s luggage, and another house duties. Tenzin and his family have a pretty big house where they live together, while the acolytes just have these stark rooms separate by sexes, and curious enough, there is no other child or teenager beside the airkids , even though we know that air nomads were allowed to have sex and children despised their religious status. In fact, Tenzin’s family and the acolytes rarely interact with each other.

They are supposed to carry on with Air Nomads culture, right? I was expecting to see a Council of Elders, which will regulate the activities in the Air Temple, give advises and support to Tenzin when he required and even call out Korra about her temper (I just can imagine this little group of wise and sassy old acolytes no taking any bullshit of those “kids”). Some of them could help Korra with her meditation and training, teach Jinora and Ikki how to take care of sky bisons since their father is busy with the city problems, or taking a cup of tea with Pema while they chat peacefully, etc.

But no, we don’t see any of this. The only hint we had about an acolyte in a position of power was in the judge of Yakone… forty years ago

And please, don’t tell me that all this is because they are not Air Nomad’s descends. Seventy years had passed since Aang took his first disciples, they must be raising the third generation of air acolytes, people who had been learning, thinking, eating and living like Air Nomads all their live, saving a culture (and two animal species) from extinction. Sure, they will never have the arrows in their skin because they are not airbenders, but it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be as wise as the wiser Air Nomad (see Guru Pathik). They deserve be considerate full right members of the Air Nation.

Sure, Tenzin keep his air acolytes well-fed, relatively comfy and they probably have an amazing health insurance, but they don’t seem to have any power over their own lives.

Asian American actor Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) told CBR TV today that he will be on “The Legend of Korra”  (maybe in Season 2?)

Oh wow, yeah. People are freaking out about that show. Were you an “Avatar” watcher when it was on?
I wasn’t a huge fan but my friends were like, “You’ve got to watch it” and I watched it before I even got that audition and I thought, “This is pretty good.” When the audition came through, I was like, “I want this so bad. So bad.” Luckily I got it and it was a blast. It was so fun, really fun.

Asian American actor Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) told CBR TV today that he will be on “The Legend of Korra”  (maybe in Season 2?)

Oh wow, yeah. People are freaking out about that show. Were you an “Avatar” watcher when it was on?

I wasn’t a huge fan but my friends were like, “You’ve got to watch it” and I watched it before I even got that audition and I thought, “This is pretty good.” When the audition came through, I was like, “I want this so bad. So bad.” Luckily I got it and it was a blast. It was so fun, really fun.

WonderCon programming for Avatar: The Last Airbender fans!

Anyone going to WonderCon?   (It’s next weekend, March 16th through 18th, in Anaheim, CA)   There’s a lot of programming available for Avatar: The Last Airbender fans this year. 


Although Nickelodeon and Dark Horse comics are NOT exhibiting this year, Racebending.com will host our fan table (Booth F-09)  

We’ll have lots of giveaways (past giveaways include stuffed Appas and Momos, pins with Aang and Korra, comic books, etc.) t-shirts for sale, and information about The Legend of Korra.  We’ll also have our interactive photo collage running!

Artists Alley will also boast some A:TLA artists, including Joshua Middleton (AA-093), who is currently working on The Legend of Korra. You’ll also be able to find fan artist DJ ‘Dark Kenjie’ Welch (AA-049) in the alley.


  • “Famous TV Theme Music
    Friday, March 16 5:00-6:00 Room 213
    Composers of popular television theme songs discuss their writing process and their influences to their craft. Charles Fox (The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, Love Boat, Happy Days), Parry Gripp (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Jeremy Zuckerman & Benjamin Wynn (Avatar the Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra), will discuss their contributions to TV theme music. Attendees will get to see a select clip from the new series The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra. Room 213
  • DC Nation Special Video Presentation and Q&A
    Friday, March 16 5:00-6:00  Room 204
    Avatar: The Last Airbender director Giancarlo Volpe will be on the panel presenting on DC Nation. 
  • "Geek Slant: How the East Meets West
    Saturday, March 17 4:30-5:30  Room 207
    From comics and film to television and new media, Asian Americans have been making their mark on pop culture. Racebending-Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality hosts this no-holds-barred conversation featuring Phil Yu (Angry Asian Man), Jen Wang and Diana Nguyen (Disgrasian), Freddie Wong (YouTube’s freddiew), and other mavens of their industry to discuss the state of Asian Pacific Americans in niche and mainstream media.
  • Comic Arts Conference Session 10: Adaptation and Media”
    Sunday, March 18 2:00-3:00 Room 210 
    Among the many presentations on adaptation will be one on The Last Airbender. Kathryn M. Frank (University of Michigan) discusses the controversy surrounding the casting of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender to uncover industry logics regarding casting and the potential success of comics/animation-to-live-action adaptations. 

(Please let us know if we’ve missed anything!)