Netflix series needs stronger acknowledgement of Inuit inspiration, says Yup’ik student

Ruth Dan's Twitter thread quickly attracted likes and shares.

1682

A Yup’ik college student from Alaska says many elements from Inuit culture, including geography, language, hair styles and even political disputes, have been borrowed by “Avatar: the Last Airbender,” the inspiration for a new live-action Netflix series.

“The creators of Avatar: the Last Airbender have borrowed a lot from the Inuit, and without our permission,” said Ruth Dan, a student in Rochester, New York, on social media.

Netflix announced last week that it has plans for a live-action remake of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” an adaption of the popular Nickelodeon series, a graphic novel and a less successful film, bashed for its “whitewashed” casting choices.

Executive producers Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko said that they will ensure their Avatar remake features “a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast,” in a Sept. 18 release about the project.

[This fund aims to help indigenous filmmakers tell their own stories about the Arctic]

The original “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which aired for three seasons on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008, followed main character Aang and his friends. Their challenge: to save the world by defeating Fire Lord Ozai and ending a war with the Fire Nation, one of four nations that include the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom and the Air Nomads.

The Water Tribe lives right where the Arctic is, Dan posted early Monday on Twitter, in a long discussion thread that attracted about 1,000 likes a few hours after it went up.

Dan also pointed out a number of names that are derived from Inuit names, including Tonraq, Unalaq and Noatak, as well as other words and the braided hairstyle of a female character.

“Avatar has even taken our modern disputes for their inspiration,” Dan said. That includes the conflict over oil and “progress” in the graphic novel “Avatar: The Last Airbender—North and South,” which they said is taken straight from conflicts over resource development in Alaska.

“So remember when you hear news about the new live-action Avatar series, it wouldn’t be possible without us. We deserve to be represented on screen,” they said.

Dan would like to see Inuit actors involved in the new series, as they were in the original one.

“They have created something really special with Avatar, and Inuit kids deserve to see themselves represented on screen as part of that,” Dan told Nunatsiaq News.

“They deserve to see that their culture is valuable, and that they won’t just be swapped out when it’s inconvenient.”

Correction: This post has been updated to correct pronouns referring to Dan.