HEAVY CONTENT WARNING FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND SEXUAL ASSAULT/RAPE ALLUSIONS
We need to talk about The Legend of Korra.
When Korra herself is introduced, she’s a strong, brash, confident, wide-eyed, ambitious, free-spirited young woman. She’s also one of the few prominent woman of colour leads in animation, and she can be muscular but still beautiful. Great! Brilliant! What a refreshing lead! I could do without the love triangle, and I wish she has a little more autonomy and wasn’t constantly chastised, but hey, still a great lead.
Now, how can add some more depth to her and help her grow? Can we see her become compassionate and caring to non-benders and find a way to solve the conflict in Republic City peacefully, putting aside her bias for fighting and bending? Can we have her learn airbending by finding her way to spiritual freedom in a more unique way? Can we show her dealing with her fear of the Equalists by talking about it with others and working on coping strategies?
Oh wait, no, we’re not going to do that. Not only are we going to solve the conflict in the most violent way possible, we’re also going to give Korra some depth by having her be violated and threatened by a man. First when she’s alone, restrained, surrounded by masked men, and have the leader uncomfortably grab her by her face and warn her about what he plans to do with her before knocking her out; and later, by the end of the series, have that man take away her bending, leaving her broken inside (despite finally finding a way to airbend). But don’t worry! We’ll have another man come and restore her bending out of nowhere!
Well, maybe now she’s learned to be more careful and less reckless. Maybe we’ll see her really grow from there! At least she now she finally has a support system with her previous incarnations and…
Oh wait, she looses that connection? In the most violent and intrusive way by literally having her source of power ripped out of her through her nose and mouth (by her own uncle no less)? And she needs a man’s help to get back in touch with her spiritual side? And even when she gets her powers back she looses that support system forever?
Alright, so the stakes have been raised a bit. Now Korra has to deal with a bunch of anarchists who want to destroy her to restore chaos to the world. But she’s grown up a bit, now she’s finally making a mature choice. She’s going to surrender herself, but her friends will make sure she gets out safely. How does that end for her?
Okay, this is where the show goes from questionable to absolutely disgusting. In this scene, the villains decide that the best way to take down Korra is to poison her, thus forcing her into the Avatar State, and hope to kill her and bring down the Avatar cycle then.
The whole scene is akin to a scene of sexual assault; you have Korra stripped down, restrained, penetrated, writhing in pain and trying to keep her, ahem, reaction under control. Luckily she is able to stay alive and bring her captor to justice, but not without lasting consequences.
After being poisoned and assaulted, she FINALLY really gets to grow and develop as a character. She becomes humbled, more spiritual, and finds a way to defeat the new villain peacefully and even sympathize with them. Yet not without people constantly telling her she’s weak, she’s not needed anymore, and that they don’t believe in her. And while she manages to get most of the poison out, she’s still reeling, having PTSD flashbacks and hallucinations, even having to resort to visiting her assailant in order to try to move past what happened to her.
And what does she make of all this in the end?
“I know I was in a pretty dark place after I was poisoned. But I finally understand why I had to go through all that. I needed to understand what true suffering was. So I could become more compassionate to others. Even to people like Kuvira.”
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.
NOBODY HAS TO GO THROUGH THAT. NOBODY HAS TO OR DESERVES TO BE POISONED, ASSAULTED, AND DEAL WITH TRAUMATIC FLASHBACKS AND HALLUCINATIONS, LET ALONE TO BECOME A BETTER PERSON. THAT IS LITERALLY ON PAR WITH ABUSIVE APOLOGISM.
And you know what’s worse?
The writers literally couldn’t find a way for Korra to grow and develop as a character organically. They literally HAD to put Korra through a traumatic incident with long lasting effects in order to make her compassionate and understand ‘true suffering’.
You know, when Aang was the Avatar, he understood true suffering when he was told about the genocide of his people. A horrible thing that didn’t personally violate him, and he was able to find a way to make things better by slowly rebuilding the air nation. Avatar Roku understood true suffering when he couldn’t save his oldest and dearest friend from himself. Avatar Kuruk understood true suffering when his wife was spirited away forever. Yet why does Korra need to understand true suffering by being poisoned?
Why not have something bad happen to her loved ones? What about having to lose a close friend to the dark side? Why not have her NOT be poisoned, break out, and have her kill her would-be assailants in a rage, and have to deal with that?
Considering all the abuse Korra had to deal with from men before, the third season could’ve made a bolder statement by have Korra look at the poison, go “I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”, enter the Avatar State on her own accord, and break free and punish the villains. The fourth season can have her trying to prevent herself from ever becoming that violent ever again, and deciding to deal with villains peacefully. That would be actual character development.
Instead, the writers need to violate and traumatize Korra. What’s worse, her mental health problems aren’t fully dealt with. The most we get of her recovering is having to confront her assailant (and actually show him sympathetically despite what he did to her). After that, we’re just supposed to assume she’s mostly all better.
All in all, the show took a bright young girl and had to physically, mentally, and emotionally break her down in order for her to become a better person and raise the stakes of the final season.
As you can see, this is all absolutely disgusting. I’m honestly shocked very few people seem to be upset over this. But it’s important that we talk about it. Why?
Because the show is still popular. Because many people are getting into this show. Because it’s being sold on Blu-Ray. Because it’s available for all to watch online. But most of all, because this is a show aimed at CHILDREN, and it’s telling them that going through a traumatic assault is necessary.
After all Korra had to go through, I’m very glad that she goes to the Spirit World with Asami. After all the abuse she had to go through (especially from men), she deserves to spend some time alone with someone who genuinely loves and cares for her. It’s just upsetting that more people tear apart the show for the ending and its supposed underdeveloped final couple than for the unnecessary violence it put the main character through.