Nerdy Girl Contributor Jo takes a close look at the writing of female characters (especially the titular one) on The Legend of Korra:
Earlier this year, I absolutely devoured the series Avatar: The Last Airbender. I watched all three seasons in about a week in anticipation of its sequel, The Legend of Korra. As a feminist, I was incredibly psyched about a series about a female Avatar. She would undoubtedly be awesome and kick-ass and “I am woman hear me roar.” Right?
After the first few episodes, I was disappointed. We are introduced to Korra when she already has three out of four bending abilities already under her belt – just handed to her by the writers. This is justifiable, I suppose. The writers didn’t want to just rehash Ang’s learning in ATLA again with Korra. However, despite being a powerful bender, she was not as strong as I had hoped, and she definitely didn’t have it all together. But Ang needed time to get it together too, so I gave her a few more episodes to get really in the swing of this whole ‘Avatar-thing.’
What unfolded in the remaining episodes seemed to be a story that happened around her rather than being her story. Supporting characters stole the show from the its supposed lead. Those most notable ones for me were:
Lin Bei Fong – inventor of metal bending*, daughter of Toph Bei Fong (from ATLA), and all-around kick-ass woman.
Bolin – sweet, silly, loyal Bolin. Powerful fire bender*. Dork extraordinaire.
Yes, Korra did things. Yes, her bending was good and she kicked butt in some fight scenes. Yes, she saved the day most days, but she never did it alone (until the finale – and even that is questionable). Ultimately, her struggles never really felt like struggles to me: Gee gosh, I can’t air bend. Darn.
In the world of ATLA, viewers will remember that Katara struggled to find a water bending teacher. She was excluded from being taught because the male water bending master refused to teach a girl. She was told to go and learn to be a healer. Obviously, sexism and gender stereotypes existed in this world. The writers/creators seemed to come out in support of fierce, feminist women. Katara stood up and proved herself to the water bending master and was accepted into training.
Writer support for strong women seems to carry over into The Legend of Korra, which basically opens with (a now elderly) Katara – herself now a water bending master – instructing/watching newly discovered Avatar Korra. The chief of police is Lin Bei Fong – a fierce female earth/metal bender. At least one woman, from the Fire Nation, sits on the council of Republic City. Asami Sato, the spoiled rich princess, learns that her father is working for the Equalist revolution and fights back. There are strong, important women in this society.
No one seems to make any kind of fuss about the Avatar being a woman. Korra gains friends – Mako, Bolin and Asami – and no one remarks at all about her gender. Master Tenzin (Ang’s son) doesn’t disparage Korra for being a woman or refuse to train her because she is a woman, as Katara experienced in ATLA.
So, is Korra’s world a post-feminist world? A world in which it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female? A world where you are judged only on merit? Perhaps. Perhaps the Equalist movement is evidence of this. Their society is so advanced that bending is the last thing making citizens of Republic City subject to a perceived inequality.
Somehow I doubt this line of thinking. Crime and poverty still exist. Mako and Bolin grew up in both and are tempted to return early on in the series. Therefore, inequality and discrimination are likely to still exist. There is only one woman on the Council – it’s not exactly even numbers.
Ultimately, I say all of this to ask: Why is Korra so damn boring?
She feels very two-dimensional. Her struggles have none of the depth of her ATLA predecessor. At times, she genuinely feels (to me, at least) like an afterthought around the other characters. She gushes about her feelings for Mako to other characters. Equal (if not more) time is spent on the “will they-won’t they” between Korra and Mako than on developing her character. This is time that could have been well-spent showing us Korra doing air bending training – and succeeding – or connecting with her past selves or having some kind of internal struggle to come into her own and thrive. Anything. Anything other than what was chosen.
I’m just confused that a show called The Legend of Korra could have such lax character development for Korra! It might as well be renamed “The Legend of Republic City” or “The Legend of Everyone Kick-Ass Except Korra.” Most perplexing of all, there’s no really obvious evidence that leads me to believe that Korra’s absolute lack of development is because the writers are anti-feminist or the world Korra lives in is anti-feminist. At least that would explain it.
I’m left to believe that the writers got too caught up in the generation of the world and the Equalist struggle and simply forgot about Korra. Or, though not anti-feminist, the all-male writing staff simply didn’t know how to handle writing a strong female lead. But Lin Bei Fong is a strong female character and could absolutely be the lead. Maybe Korra is just supposed to be really boring!
As I said earlier, I was let down by The Legend of Korra. I loved the world of ATLA and its concepts, and I wanted an exciting sequel about a strong female Avatar. What I got was a moderately interesting sequel to ATLA in terms of how the world has developed, populated with a few strong females as secondary characters and one really boring female main character.
Here’s my plea: Do better, TLoK showrunners. Hire some female writers. Perhaps they can give our heroine the legend she deserves.
*Corrections: Toph Bei Fong is the inventor of metal bending. Bolin is an earth bender.