Michael Dante DiMartino writes how he and fellow showrunner Bryan Konietzko lost control of the creative direction.

By Nick Romano
August 12, 2020 at 12:57 PM EDT
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In news that will come as a blow to fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender, series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have decided to leave Netflix's planned live-action series.

DiMartino, writing about the situation in an open letter published to his blog Wednesday, revealed he and his creative partner actually left their posts as showrunners and executive producers this past June after two years of development.

"When Bryan and I signed on to the project in 2018, we were hired as executive producers and showrunners," DiMartino wrote. "In a joint announcement for the series, Netflix said that it was committed to honoring our vision for this retelling and to supporting us on creating the series. And we expressed how excited we were for the opportunity to be at the helm. Unfortunately, things did not go as we had hoped."

Concept Art by John Staub/Netflix

DiMartino mentions that he realized he "couldn't control the creative direction of the series," but that he could control how he responded. "So, I chose to leave the project," he continued. "It was the hardest professional decision I’ve ever had to make, and certainly not one that I took lightly, but it was necessary for my happiness and creative integrity. And who knows? Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar has the potential to be good. It might turn out to be a show many of you end up enjoying. But what I can be certain about is that whatever version ends up on-screen, it will not be what Bryan and I had envisioned or intended to make."

A Netflix spokesperson released a statement following the public responses from DiMartino and Konietzko. "We have complete respect and admiration for Michael and Bryan and the story that they created in the Avatar animated series," it reads. "Although they have chosen to depart the live-action project, we are confident in the creative team and their adaptation."

The live-action series is still on track with Nickelodeon, Dan Lin, and the team at Rideback attached, EW has learned.

Konietzko released his own statement on the matter through his Instagram page. "Though I got to work with some great individuals, both on Netflix's side and on our own small development team, the general handling of the project created what I felt was a negative and unsupportive environment," he said.

"To be clear, this was not a simple matter of us not getting our way," he added. "Mike and I are collaborative people, we did not need all of the ideas to come from us. As long as we felt those ideas were in line with the spirit and integrity of Avatar, we would have happily embraced them. However, we ultimately came to the belief that we would not be able to meaningfully guide the direction of the series."

He also commended all the "wonderfully talent people who are still working on the series, some of whom Mike and I personally hired and got to know well during our time on the project."

The popular Nickelodeon animated series maintains a legacy that has only grown since ending with sequel series The Legend of Korra in 2014. The saga began with a story set in the four nations of Benders, people with the ability to manipulate one of the four elements: earth, air, fire, water. As the opening sequence states, only the Avatar, a being born once every life cycle, can master all four elements. Awakening from a years-long slumber within a block of ice, Aang, the new Avatar, meets an unrecognizable world where the Fire Nation has waged war against the other territories for world domination.

Avatar: The Last Airbender gained new audiences when it returned to Netflix this past May. The Legend of Korra, following the adventures of Aang's Avatar successor, arrives on the platform this week.

DiMartino promises his departure from the live-action series won't be the end of his involvement with the franchise at large, which includes comic books and novels.

"These stories and characters are important to me and the renewed interest and excitement in Avatar and Korra has been inspiring to see," he wrote. "Writing this letter has left me with a very heavy heart. I know many of you will be disappointed and frustrated by this news. I get it. I share your disappointment and frustration. I also recognize this creative setback is small compared to the problems we’re all facing as a society right now."

This article has been updated with a statement from Netflix. 

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