The Legend of Korra star Janet Varney says 'Korrasami' normalized same-sex relationships in animated shows
"There are people who are like, 'Oh, I didn't even realize that would be something that would raise an eyebrow.' That's really, really a good sign."
Nearly seven years ago, in the series finale of the Nickelodeon show The Legend of Korra, Avatar Korra and her best friend, Asami Sato, walked into the Spirit World and marked the beginning of their romance.
At the time, some fans didn't pick up that the pair's status was more than platonic, leading co-creator Bryan Konietzko to declare, once and for all, that "Korrasami is canon," and that the Avatar was bisexual. The depiction of Korra and Asami's relationship "changed the face of TV," announced Vanity Fair, at a time when LGBTQ representation in animation was scant. However, certain viewers complained that "Korrasami" was forced or unnecessary.
Looking back, Janet Varney, who voiced the titular heroine, says the criticism around Korra and Asami's relationship is precisely why the series matters so much, because it normalized the portrayal of LGBTQ relationships in animated series that followed.
"What's been really cool, even just in this short period of time since the original Korrasami canon, the end of Book Four, and just last summer, is that there are already young people who are surprised that it was controversial," Varney tells EW. "They're surprised because they've also seen She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and they love Steven Universe, and these shows that either came around the same time, or in many cases after, that are also exploring gay relationships."
She continues, "I love that because we've all said the awesomest thing is going to be when kids who see this for the first time are like, 'Wait a minute, Korrasami was controversial?' And that's already happening, where there are people who are like, 'Oh, I didn't even realize that would be something that would raise an eyebrow.' That's really, really a good sign."
Varney has been sharing Korrasami fan art on her Instagram page for a while now, and this Pride Month has been no different. She's also taken part in live readings for Turf Wars, one of the ensuing graphic novels that has explored Korra and Asami's relationship in detail.
While Konietzko and co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino have always wanted to explore Korrasami more, Varney considers the fact that these shows were on Nickelodeon at all "amazing," given how groundbreaking and complex both Korra and its predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender were.
"They've talked about that very openly, and continue to, and that's why the books have been so important," Varney says. "Having someone like [Turf Wars artist Irene Koh], who's this phenomenal illustrator, involved, and diving into the actual relationship dynamics Korra and Asami have within their adventures, has been key."
Varney emphasizes that Konietzko and DiMartino always treated the characters' romance with care. She recalls them meeting with her and Asami's voice actress, Seychelle Gabriel, when they decided to develop it so that the actors could find out before fans caught on. From the get-go, she knew it would be special.
"When Mike and Bryan pulled us aside and said, 'This is where we've been planning to take this and this is what's what's going to happen,' they didn't have to pull us aside," Varney says. "They didn't have to tell Seychelle and me alone. And that still brings tears into my eyes, because it felt like a way of them honoring the fact that we were bringing our spirits to these voices."
The creators are among the many guests Varney and Dante Basco (who voices Zuko/General Iroh) will welcome on their forthcoming podcast, Avatar: Braving the Elements, during which the co-hosts will recap every episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender and, they hope, eventually its sequel, The Legend of Korra.
On Tuesday, EW exclusively premiered the podcast's trailer and chatted with the pair about what listeners can expect from the series. Varney also cleared up any speculation that they're involved in Avatar Studios, DiMartino and Konietzko's new division at Nickelodeon aimed at creating original content based on the Avatarverse.
"I don't have any idea what's happening with Avatar Studios, really," Varney says. "Dante and I have to be kept in the dark because we are very bad at spilling secrets."
However, she adds, "I have all the faith in the world that no matter what stories Mike and Bryan are telling, they are advancing those cultural explorations. They are always going to push the envelope for what is the right story at the right time, and do it with respect and always want to be better."
The Avatar: Braving the Elements podcast is out June 22.
The Legend of Korra