Television

Published on December 31st, 2014 | by Lauren McPhee

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Korrasami – Why Couldn’t There Have Been More?

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To those well versed in the cues of television, there is little about the final scene in The Legend of Korra that is ambiguous: a scene at a wedding, two people sharing a tender moment alone, romantic music, walking off into the sunset (spirit portal), holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes… I hadn’t anticipated it, but I knew what I was seeing: the start of Korra and Asami’s romantic relationship. After watching their friendship develop and their care for each other grow throughout the seasons, I didn’t need confirmation that they loved each other. That, I already knew. What I didn’t know was that Bryke were going to cement a canonical, bisexual couple in what is marketed as a children’s television show.

Our intention with the last scene was to make it as clear as possible that yes, Korra and Asami have romantic feelings for each other. The moment where they enter the spirit portal symbolizes their evolution from being friends to being a couple. – Michael

I have good reasons for not being optimistic about the possibilities for LGBT representation in mainstream television when LGBT characters are constantly unrepresented, presented as jokes or tokens, or disavowed even when canonically queer. Queer-baiting is also present in a huge number of shows, whereby queer identities are alluded to but ultimately denied. This is especially true for children’s television, which still sees anything that isn’t heteronormative as a threat to morality and decency. A show which suffers from this attitude is Adventure Time wherein Princess Bubblegum and Marceline are understood to have romantic feelings for each other, as confirmed by showrunners, but this can never be confirmed or explicitly shown in the cartoon.

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As the sequel to Avatar: the Last Airbender which similarly deals massively with politics, issues of sexism, equality, tolerance and ableism, and has a wealth of diverse female characters, we can expect Korra not to shy away from issues in society. However, homosexuality is still a topic that creators cannot deal with or mention outright. It is starkly missing from politics in the world of Avatar. Which brings us back to this sudden reveal, this implicitly explicit moment, this declaration of love that must remain unspoken. And we are forced to wonder why.

Why, when there haven’t been any other attempts throughout the show to openly represent LBGT characters and issues? Why, when it is literally in the final moments of the show and can never be taken further? Why, even that tiny utterance at all?

First of all, we need to remind ourselves that this is Nickelodeon we are talking about. They are exactly the kind of channel we mentioned before, the kind that expressly forbids any kind of explicit dealings with homosexuality or LGBT issues. Nor have they shown Korra the best respect in moving the show unexpectedly from tv to online and brutally cutting their fourth season budget. In their tumblr posts, Bryke go a little into their experience of theme restrictions with the company.

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I have bragging rights as the first Korrasami shipper (I win!). As we wrote Book 1, before the audience had ever laid eyes on Korra and Asami, it was an idea I would kick around the writers’ room. At first we didn’t give it much weight, not because we think same-sex relationships are a joke, but because we never assumed it was something we would ever get away with depicting on an animated show for a kids network in this day and age, or at least in 2010. – Bryan

What this shows us is that the creators were heavily influenced by pressures they felt from Nickelodeon and cultural expectations of what is acceptable within children’s television. However, we can see that Korra and Asami’s as a couple was always something that was open and available in their own thinking. Yet, their reluctance to pursue the relationship is understandable: Korra was a hard sell from the get go as a more adult show, with a female protagonist. In order to tell their story, and get to tell it the way they wanted, the creators would have to play by the rules rather than risk the show getting pulled or subject to increased interference from higher ups. But after almost four years, at the end, they were able to feel confident enough to push things that little bit further:

But as we got close to finishing the finale, the thought struck me: How do I know we can’t openly depict that? No one ever explicitly said so. It was just another assumption based on a paradigm that marginalizes non-heterosexual people. If we want to see that paradigm evolve, we need to take a stand against it. And I didn’t want to look back in 20 years and think, “Man, we could have fought harder for that.” Mike and I talked it over and decided it was important to be unambiguous about the intended relationship. – Bryan

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Creators should never have to feel pressured not to tackle LGBT issues, nor limited in representing LGBT characters. I can’t believe that this too often remains the case in 2014. I hate how far we still have to go before this stops being an issue in society. So, I’m incredibly proud that Bryke made the decision to ignore that pressure within society. No one explicitly told them they couldn’t do it! It’s supposed to just be accepted as the way things are! How fucked up is that?!

Nevertheless, I’ve seen criticism that the creators didn’t go far enough, that Korra and Asami’s relationship just comes out of the blue. I agree, it doesn’t go far enough, but I don’t think we can lay blame on the creators for that. It was still a brave move, one that made a lot of people happy, and one that is only adding to the strength and success of the show. Bryke also urges us to look back at the past two seasons for evidence of a build up to Korra and Asami’s relationship. And it may not always be obvious, but the signs of developing feelings are there.

Even if you don’t always read their interactions as romantic, it’s clear that Korra and Asami feel very strongly about each other. They increasingly spend time together, just the two of them, Asami teaching Korra to drive and sparring with her. They also take pleasure in Mako’s awkwardness around them, and it’s Asami who supports Korra emotionally after her fight with Zaheer. At the end, Mako will always have her back, physically, but Asami is the one who understands what she’s going through emotionally and can empathise and support her.

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Say what you will about these scenes, that they are not obvious enough, that they are more platonic than romantic, and that they represent female friendship, but those are still the realities of many queer relationships today. A lot of the time, queer relationships are played out much more subtly in the public eye and develop in private; similarly, why should we demand that a relationship between women share the heterosexual traits of Korra and Mako’s relationship? Korra and Asami’s relationship is not a heterosexual one and does not necessarily need be thought of in the same terms, or be expected to develop in the same way. Nonetheless, we want to be able to see overt displays of romantic and sexual desire in LGBT relationships, but until that becomes standard, it is still possible to read queer relationships in subtle cues and gestures.

But this particular decision wasn’t only done for us. We did it for all our queer friends, family, and colleagues. It is long overdue that our media (including children’s media) stops treating non-heterosexual people as nonexistent, or as something merely to be mocked. I’m only sorry it took us so long to have this kind of representation in one of our stories. – Bryan

The most disappointing thing about the end of The Legend of Korra is that it ended and that many opportunities to develop and represent Korra and Asami’s relationship end with it. What we can hope for is greater acknowledgement in the art books for Book 3 and 4, and possibly comics. Three Avatar: the Last Airbender trilogies have been released as comics, delving deeper into the events after the end of the 100 year war, and there’s another trilogy due out next year. We can hope that Korra and Asami’s relationship will continue in comics and that all the support and publicity garnered for the end of the season will help to change attitudes with regards to LGBT representation and allow more people to successfully push the boundaries of what can be done in animation, television, film, comics and the rest of culture and media.

 

Lauren McPhee

Lauren McPhee

Writer. Reader of comics. Martial artist. From Republic City.
Lauren McPhee

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