‘Legend of Korra’ has come to Netflix, bringing political allegories alongside high-stakes adventures

Aug. 21, 2020, 5:18 p.m.

After the well-received re-run of Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” on Netflix, the long-awaited sequel show “Legend of Korra” dropped on Netflix on Aug. 14. 

First released in 2012, “Legend of Korra” tells the story of the Avatar Korra, who succeeds the original series’ Avatar, Aang. In a world built on the four natural elements — Fire Nation, Air Nomads, Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom — select individuals hold an innate power of “bending” their respective elements. The Avatar, a spirit passed through a reincarnation cycle, holds the power to bend all four elements in order to bring balance and peace to the world.

Fast-forwarding 70 years after the events of “The Last Airbender,” Korra, a hot-headed, headstrong fighter, and her friends take on four jam-packed seasons of saving the world. 

Analogous to a kind of Industrial Revolution, the world made great technological advancements that create an urbanized backdrop for Korra’s heroic journey. 

Similar to “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “Legend of Korra” pushes the standards of a children’s show, with the fictional plotlines derived from extreme political ideologies and themes inspired by the real world. 

In season one, the plot is scored by heavy themes of equality and radicalism. The “villain,” Amon, is introduced as the leader of an organization of radical revolutionaries, the Equalists. Deemed to achieve equality amongst benders and non-benders, Amon uses his power, said to be bestowed upon by the spirits, to rid bending in benders, especially those who abuse their power. 

Essentially an agent of populism — a political ideology appealing to ‘the people’ against the interests of the upper class — Amon’s movement gains publicity and supporters by putting a stop to discrimination and shifting power. The injustice caused by the imbalance of physical power stems from non-benders’ hatred and fear. 

Alongside populism, Amon’s pseudo-communist ideals guide his mission to reform Republic City’s society. In the Avatar world, most benders are of the elite class; on the other hand, the lower, non-bender class is assigned to menial jobs. Amon’s movement grows as he seizes the class struggle and fights for socioeconomic equality. 

The theme of equality is portrayed on both sides of the spectrum. For benders, the inborn bending does not only symbolize their higher class but also their individuality and identity. When some lose their bending to Amon, it shows the fear, physically and mentally, of being part of what is constituted as the lower class. For non-benders, their internalized disdain for those they see as less than themselves sparks violent retaliation, ultimately disrupting the power balance even further, changing their purpose from a group against systematic oppression to a hate group.

Season one’s themes echo today’s fights for social and political equality. The overarching desire for equality is most prominent with the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, one of history’s most powerful social movements. Benders, like many people with privilege, are unwilling to relinquish their higher social standing in order to bring about a more just society. The show’s caste system represents the systematic racism of our country established over 400 years ago. In contrast, privilege amongst others can yield to ignorance and disregard for the oppressed. 

Avatar Korra’s privilege clashes against the devastating reality of the unjust society in which she lives.

Season two’s plotline focuses on extreme theocracy as the villain, Unalaq, pursues his flawed intent of recombining the human world with the precarious spirit world, in hopes of harmonious integration. 

Theocracy, a form of government with a recognized deity as the authority, is illustrated through Unalaq worship of the dark spirit, Vaatu. Although he established his plan for a harmonious life, his shared greed with Vaatu turned him into the “Dark Avatar,” embodied to bring ten thousand years of darkness and chaos, ultimately creating a paradoxical villain who brought destruction. 

The political theme of extremism illustrated by Unalaq’s avaricious mistakes prompts us to consider the dangers of ideological extremism. Season two also shows how harmful, greedy human interventions disrupted the spirit world, causing the two worlds to separate from one another. Similarly, from the endless waste to global warming, our planet suffers damage directly from humans, some of which is regrettably irreversible. Notably, Korra’s decision to permanently reopen the spirit world provides a vision of hope that our two worlds can coexist.

A fan favorite, season three’s conflict revolves around anarchy as escaped prisoners labeled as the world’s most vicious people organize to liberate people across the world by destroying government leaders. 

The main antagonist, Zaheer, who loses his freedom and subsequently becomes obsessed with reclaiming it, is a sympathetic villain who truly believes anarchy will bring equality. His team manages to burn down the Earth Kingdom’s “impenetrable” walls, and the lower class celebrates the fall of the Earth Kingdom, revealing how much the government had failed to serve the people at the bottom of society.

In the fourth season, the plotline reaches darker, yet more realistic, themes by combining Korra’s fight against PTSD and an uprising fascist nation. Following her near-death fight with Zaheer, Korra suffers physically and mentally from PTSD; the show breaks boundaries by illustrating the dark truth of mental illness through Korra’s struggle and recovery. 

During the course of Korra’s recovery, a new leader—Kuvira—stands amongst the ruins of her Earth Kingdom. Shown through isolated towns run by bandits and the reliance on stealing for resources, Kuvira seizes the struggle to rebuild her nation and restore order.

A fascist leader, Kuvira quickly conquers land and people through manipulation and influence. Her nationalism, the idea that one’s nation comes first, inspires and unites the Earth people under the mentality of “us” against “them.” Despite Kuvira’s pure intentions to rebuild the fallen kingdom and give a home to her people, her empire fell to a vicious totalitarian rule that disrupted the world’s harmony and balance. 

Exploring the extremities of politics and children’s show themes, “Legend of Korra” tells the stories of the development of society and the new Avatar, a continuation of the Avatar cycle and the legacy of the original series.

Contact Katherine Lee at katie.lee.1004 ‘at’ gmail.com.

Katherine Lee is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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