Children’s television shows do not just provide a sense of entertainment for youth but also a reference for how society works as it reflects the social values and controversies of that time period. The Legend of Korra, which first aired in 2013, is a children’s animated television show that does just that. Each of the show’s female characters has their own sense of agency which is most pronounced in the protagonist Korra. The Legend of Korra utilizes the heroine Korra as an agent of change through her constant negotiation between her race, sexuality, and being a young woman.
Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante Dimartino are responsible for creating the Avatar universe which The Legend of Korra comes from. Preceding Korra in 2005 is Avatar: The Last Airbender which aired on Nickelodeon until 2008. Both series garnered critical acclaim and won multiple Annie Awards for animation. The Legend of Korra is important because of how it ended. The series’ final shot, shown above, was used to show Korra and Asami becoming a romantic couple. The series pushed the boundaries of LGBT representation in children’s television by going farther than any other children’s show has gone before. The Legend of Korra is relevant because it tackled an issue that is currently being discussed is the social forum, same-sex marriage.
Korra is the avatar, master of all four of the elements and it is her job to bring peace to the
world by acting as the bridge between the physical world and the spiritual world. Not only is she a woman but a woman of color. She is from the Southern Water Tribe and closely resembles the Inuit race. Throughout the series characters have never called into question Korra’s competency as the avatar based on her race or gender. She is a strong heroine and if a character does have an issue he or she cites Korra’s fighting skills as the problem not her race or gender.
One of the most impressionable audiences are children. The Legend of Korra airs on Nickelodeon, a channel geared towards children, but also has an adult following due to the themes it presents. Children are more likely to identify with heroic characters, like Korra, and try to imitate them. Gender role stereotypes which are “collections of gender specific attributes… that differentiate typical feminine behavior from masculine” (Baker & Rancy, 2007, pg. 26) are prevalent in children’s programming. Korra emerges from this as an outlier because while she does display some feminine qualities she is not defined by her gender. Heroines, like Korra, tend to “shed some traditional gender-role stereotypes, taking on aggressive, powerful, and self-sufficient characteristics. They still maintain traditionally feminine traits such as good looks and emotionality” (Camacho, 2012, pg. 164).
Korra’s final negotiation is with her sexuality. In the show Korra is in her late teens and got romantically involved with Mako, a male. The relationship eventually ended on good
terms and the two remain friends. Asami is another strong female character in the show. She does not have the power to bend the elements but she can still hold her own in a fight as she is a skilled martial artist. Asami was also in a relationship with Mako before Mako left Asami to be with Korra. Asami’s femininity is a stark contrast to Korra’s tough demeanor. Asami and Korra form a strong friendship, an important aspect of which is their differences. This friendship is so important because is shows two women who, stereotypically, would not get along. This friendship eventually evolves into a romantic interest by the end of the series.
The representation of the LGBTQ community has become prevalent in recent years
because society is open to new changes. Shows like Orange is the New Black and Glee have been recent platforms for this community. This is why The Legend of Korra was able to end in this manner. It all dates back to previous notable celebrities such as a Ellen Degeneres (Dow, 2001) who helped make it more socially acceptable to come out.
In conclusion, The Legend of Korra is a very important piece of media literature because it allowed for Korra to negotiate her diversity on screen so children could understand what is going on in society in a way they could understand.
Baker, K.&. Raney, A. (2007). Equally Super?: Gender-role stereotyping of superheroes in children’s animated programs. Media and society, 10(1), 25-41.
Camacho, M. (2012) Heroes: Action and superheroes. In Kosut, M. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of gender, (pp. 161-164).
Dow, B. (2001) Ellen, television, and the politics of gay and lesbian visibility. Critical studies in media communication, 18(2), 123-140.
Kearney, M. C. (2012) The gender and media reader. New York: Routledge