Because fans should be critical, too

Why “The Legend of Korra” Deserves It’s NAACP Image Award Nomination

There has been a controversy recently regarding The Legend of Korra‘s nomination by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) for the Image Award of “Outstanding Children’s Program.”

If I what I’ve read is true, then most of the conflict stems from the fact that Korra, while featuring minorities in the starring roles, is the creation of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, two white men (one of whom allegedly has Native American ancestors, making him whiter than most people) and that most of the people who worked on the show were white. This might have been a valid argument if the show were a racist piece of shit, but it’s certainly not racist. So who cares if the creators are white? It doesn’t dim the show’s social and cultural impact one bit, because when kids look up at their television screens and/or computer monitors, all they see is a strong black woman. And while, technically speaking, the main protagonist Korra is actually none of those things (sans the woman part, obviously), beggars can’t be choosers.

Besides, there’s no reason Korra shouldn’t have been nominated and/or considered. It fits all the criteria necessary:

It Stars People of Color

The term “people of color” is a little vague. As far as I’ve gathered, the term basically encompasses all minorities, or at least anyone who is not white in the traditional sense (read: American Caucasian). Korra, like it’s predecessor Avatar: the Last Airbender, takes place in an alternative universe based exclusively on Asian culture, thus making everyone in this universe a “person of color.”

Notice, if you will, that the conflict in Korra revolves around class and not race. Generally speaking, there is no racism in the Avatar universe. The ability to Bend, the true source of conflict, is more akin to a handicap than anything else, and discrimination based on handicaps is not racism. It’s not as if African American midgets are any less black than standard-sized African Americans (though sometimes the taller African Americans are considered blacker).

So the NAACP clearly made a wise choice in nominating Korra, a show that demonstrates that only in a world without white people can colored people truly advance. And here I was thinking this show had no politics!

It is Outstanding

People often mistakenly assuming that “outstanding” is synonymous with “good.” When taken at face value, the word simply describes something that “stands out” (or, more specifically, “is in the progress/in a constant state of standing out”). In this climate of mindless and cynical kid’s shows, something as sincere and potent as Korra can’t help but stand out. (It also helps that, as mentioned earlier, there are no white people.)

Now some would say that Korra doesn’t resolve its main conflict in a satisfying. Since when is art supposed to resolve anything? Artists like DiMartino and Konietzko are only meant to reveal the problem, not offer solutions. In that sense, they’re like Ham, there point out the troubles of our time, so that we the audience, like Shem and Japheth, can take care of the problem ourselves without having to look it straight in the face like these two brave men have. God bless them!

It is a Children’s Program

This one is self-explanatory. It is a Nickelodeon product, after all.

As you can see, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Korra being nominated. This isn’t the Oscars, which we all know is run by self-congratulatory old men. This is the NAACP Image Awards, an organization that actually recognizes and celebrates the artistic achievements and advances of colored people featured in such classics as Sister Act. If George Lucas, the esteemed director of the Star Wars prequels, can be awarded by the NAACP, why can’t DiMartino and Konietzko? It’s only Image anyway, right?

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10 responses

  1. gen

    You know, speaking of George Lucas, I’ve heard some people compare Korra to the Star Wars prequels (particularly the Phantom Menace) in regards to dumbing down the original martial arts and sucking the magic and wonder out of the original series. If this first season was indeed comparable to the Phantom Menace, I’m really scared that Season 2 of the legend of korra will be comparable to Attack of the Clones, which everyone mostly remembers for its horrid romance plot. After all, Bryke did say in an interview with IGN that they have already finished writing book 2 and it will focus more on the romance between Korra and Mako, though Mako “still has Asami in the back of his mind”. Apparently Korra and Mako will have problems because “she’s the avatar and he’s a cop.” In addition, it will explore the relations between Tenzin and Lin, and give Bolin a “bizarre” love story. According to a piece of concept art, some people now also speculate that Mako will be able to go to the Spirit World with Korra, and some guy started a rumor on tumblr that Korra’s cousin Palartok will fall for Mako.

    January 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm

  2. gen

    I am scared of more romance in general, and I know Bryke will not pay mind to whatever issues fans have with it, as they have gone on record saying that those who hated the romance subplot and Mako were just “angry fangirls” whose preferred pairing did not take off (whichever that may be). I’m thinking of some of the official commentaries that Bryke has made on the “Making of a Legend” segments, and their views might help you to get a better understanding of how what they think constitutes a good story and characterization might actually hurt the series. Many tumblrs have noted that seeing Bryke’s commentaries make the show and its characters look even worse. Like how Bryke noted that they thought much of the tension in the story came from (and they intended it so) the romantic rivalries in the group.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    • JMR

      Yeah, it seems to stem from Bryke’s reputation of “trolling” the shippers in the original series. Now every criticism of the show’s romantic aspect is just rabid shippers and can be dismissed.

      The real problem though is that they said they enjoy “cheesy teen romance” at one point. Unfortunately, enjoying something doesn’t make you good at it…

      January 21, 2013 at 12:39 am

  3. gen

    Not every criticism can be dismissed as “angry fangirls” actually, and genderizing the term as “fangirls” is ignoring all the male fans that had problems with it. Angry fangirls implies that most of the fanbase consists of irrational women, which is not true. In fact the most irrational female fans are the ones that ardently defend the romance and its main couple. Most people I have seen on the internet, youtube.com, or outside (like older relatives) hate the romance because they think it detracts from the story as a whole and prevented the fans from seeing more of the more interesting main plot involving the political conflict between benders and non-benders. People like uberhikari, demonpyromaniac, and writingfails tumblr also give rational criticisms and note that the two parties involved in the main couple act despicably towards the other characters in order to make it happen-Mako cheats on Asami while being angry at her for calling him out on his behavior and Korra breaks Bolin’s heart. Bryke does not think the characters acted horribly, and to me, it just goes to show how out of touch Bryke is with their own fanbase.

    January 21, 2013 at 7:16 am

    • JMR

      I’m not saying I think they can be dismissed. I’m saying that’s the attitude Bryke have taken because “lol we’re trolling the shippers!”.

      It’s one of those situations where you’re not entirely sure the creators even understand their own show, or what made it successful. A:TLA wasn’t a success because of cheesy teen romance, it was a success in spite of it, and because that aspect was largely downplayed.

      January 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm

  4. max

    well said marshall

    January 24, 2013 at 8:34 pm

  5. Jennie

    In art class i was told white is a color, too.

    March 3, 2013 at 2:07 am

    • Yet one more reason the term “people of color” is vague and stupid.

      March 3, 2013 at 4:38 pm

  6. Spiderbowl

    I think you bring up some fair points about the NAACP award, I would have to disagree about the the it has non-white people or POC section of your argument whichever we wanna call it. The reason I would disagree with it is because I think for an image award it has to be more than just the visual representation of race, but also the messages that comes with it. No, Legend of Korra doesn’t directly relate to race in the bender/non-bender conflict and it is more about class, but I think that’s something people forget a lot when discussing race issues, is that race issues are intrinsically connected to class issues. For example the class apart argument, where Mexicans were considered white technically but treated like second class citizens. Most of the effects of racism directly effect class. So yes, Korra didn’t focus on race but class instead, but I think it’s not entirely fair to dismiss its importance to race simply because it deals with class alone. Especially since I related on a racial level to the equalist movement. As i’m sure many other different groups related to the equalist movement for different things like gender, disabilities and such.

    Now heres why I say this, to me the equalist movement reminded me a lot about civil rights movements that have happened throughout history, especially in regards to race. I was able to relate to Amon and equalist plight more than Korra’s, because it’s something I’m familiar with and can relate to. Infact that’s partially why the ending infuriated me in the show and how in general they dealt with the equalist movement. I haven’t watched the ending since last year so I could be fuzzy on the details but from what I remember, the way they handled it by completely discrediting Amon and having him drop all of his morals instantly and how in effect it discredited the whole movement, Or at least it was shown that way, especially since the equalist didn’t do anything after the fact, which made it seem like they were just bedazzled by a charismatic leader and that their issues weren’t important or real at all. To be honest though, I could have forgiven this if it wasn’t for Korra herself and the general portrayal of the conflict in the show.

    My real problem with the show and why I don’t think it should win an NAACP award was how Korra handled it and how the show handled it. Korra never directly confronts the issues the Equalist bring up, she is only after Amon and bent on defeating him physically. She’s afraid of him because he’s a physical threat to her being more than anything, she’s afraid of being a non-bender because it won’t make her special anymore but she never really delves into why being a non-bender would be such a bad thing. She doesn’t stop to think, well hmmm how do non-benders feel about being non-benders? Or show any sort of empathy or active way in trying to understand the cause via non-crazy extremist. The show also gives the actual non-benders who are experiencing oppression an honest voice, or why generally good people would join the cause that isn’t crazy! Now you probably might say what about Asami? Or even Mako and Bolin who while they may be benders are lower class? Well one, if this is an issue of class why is your only non-bender someone who is from the upper class and probably not be able to relate to the harder consequences of being a 2nd class citizen and Mako and Bolin are benders and as far as I can remember aren’t really ever shown relating to the non-benders (Which you think they could? Being lower class themselves, but there is a long history of potential allies not seeing what they have in common.) There’s basically no real voice that isn’t crazy that shows the importance of this movement, that humanizes the cause. This is an issue, especially if it’s to be given an NAACP award, since there is a long well documented history of silencing the other side, making them look crazy in order to discredit very legit reasons for being upset.

    Worst part is Korra and the Krew don’t even bother to empathize! Shit Korra comes into town and is like “ You’re oppressing yourself!” I’m sorry, this is a classic example given when having discussion with people in privileged positions when discussing issues of Race, gender and more. So as a WOC (Women of color sounds even weirder XD) seeing a rare occurrence of another WOC starring in her own show and she exemplifies in a lot of ways unchecked privilege (The irony of it all!) I can’t even fully relate to my rare WOC protagonist! But for me the problem really isn’t that Korra has unchecked privilege, I think it would have been a very interesting and rewarding journey to see her come to see and understand the otherside. Instead, however, she is seen as never dealing with the situation directly, in a lot of cases denying its validity rather bluntly and most importantly never learns a got damn thing about the other side from this experience. Worst off she is rewarded and seen as the hero for this, it hurts a million times more that this inconsideration is coming from a WOC.

    Another upsetting aspect where is the Martin Luther King? Where is the Ghandi? While there is always a militant side to these movements there are also people who want to accomplish these goals peacefully. I think both sides are very important to show, so why was the one more easy to discredit as a menace to society shown and not the other? It’s a childrens show, really what lessons are they going to learn from this? From what I got it’s perfectly ok to not bother to empathize with the other side, to not check your privilege, to invalidate other peoples very real issues and uphold status quo and be called a hero because of it. This isn’t even a race specific thing, most issues like gender, sexualitiy and as you said people with disabilities can all relate to the equalist issue because a lot of these issues are issues of class as well. So if its an award that goes for race relations why would you give it to something that showcases so many qualities of siding with an oppressive system? Worst! Upholding it!

    I won’t really go into my conflicted feelings about white creators and non-white characters. I’m not opposed to it, but I do think that we need more diversity in creators room for reasons I won’t get into because i’ve already ranted enough XD. So sorry.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I love the avatar world, I love that it isn’t white centric. I love that it takes inspiration from a diversity of asian cultures as oppose to considering it in a one dimensional all asians are the same thing. Most importantly I love that all the characters are in the avatar world (although i’ll debate some of the characters of LOK) are well rounded developed characters that showcase their humanity more than anything. Which to me is the most important thing about showing different races, is showing them as people and not stereotypes or mythic figures to support white characters. So for that I appreciate Korra, I appreciate that she’s also a brown girl, especially a brown girl modeled after inuits, especially since so many native american characters are ignored in the media. So I appreciate and love Korra for these things, but if she’s going to win an award for positive image. She better deal with these issues in a thoughtful manner. Of course this is just my humble opinion. Sorry for the long rant, I hope it was clear. I personally have difficulty expressing myself thoughtfully through words so I hope you can get what i’m saying.

    August 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    • Zaheer

      Wow, standing ovations!

      December 25, 2014 at 4:25 pm

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