Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s successor story, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, featured a few queer characters and romances, including, of course, between its main characters, Korra and Asami. But the earlier tale of The Last Airbender offered no representation in this arena. And so, going into Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s live-action series, the franchise’s many queer fans hoped they might see a little bit more queerness depicted in this take on the story. And happily, although brief, Netflix’s Avatar adaptation does bring some queerness to the table. In fact, it makes the origin story of an entire group of benders overtly queer. While this flash of queerness isn’t necessarily enough for the long term, it is done in a beautiful way that threads queerness into the very bedrock of Avatar‘s world. And so, we’ll celebrate it!

Spoiler Alert

Let’s take a look at how Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s live-action adaptation made the origin story of earthbending into a queer myth.


“Secret tunnel! Secret tunnel!” We know this Avatar: The Last Airbender earworm, we love it, and it’s now officially a queer lady anthem. (Which, honestly, makes it kind of that much more amazing. But we won’t go into that too much here.) In the fourth episode of the Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action, Sokka and Katara encounter a group of nomadic, hippie earthbenders playing some tunes outside the tunnels of Omashu. Franchise fans will recognize the scenario from the second-season cartoon episode “The Cave of Two Lovers.” Pausing in their singing, the earthbenders offer Katara and Sokka some insight into the tunnels’ history.

To explain how the tunnels came to be, the hippies tell the myth of Oma and Shu, the first earthbenders. Oma and Shu, they share, were two lovers from enemy villages who learned earthbending from the badgermoles in order to create a place where they could share their love. However, one day, Oma did not come to meet Shu in their tunnels; she had been killed in an attack. In devastation, Shu wielded her great earthbending powers, bringing both villages to their knees. But instead of striking against them, she declared the war over. The two villages came together in peace and built Omashu as a monument to Oma and Shu’s great love. But hey, did you catch that? Yes. Unlike in the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon, Oma and Shu are two ladies this time, and that makes the myth of the first earthbenders a queer one.


Of course, Oma does die tragically in this story, which is a fate we never love for our queer characters and love stories. But what we do love is the ease with which queer love is embedded into the mythology of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s world in the live-action. We now know that all earthbenders in the series get to have their bending thanks to the love of two queer women. It’s a pretty powerful thing. Lore and history carry great weight in this franchise in particular, so the alteration of one of its main myths to include queerness is a very welcome one.

Honestly, as a queer person watching the episodes, I did not expect a sudden queer love story to come upon me in Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s live-action. Hoped, yes, but I did not expect it. And then I literally rewound the tape three times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. The tale of Oma and Shu is depicted with such a poignant and beautiful hand; it really resonated with me. And the way in which the show shifted a previously straight narrative into a queer one without any fanfare is commendable. Diffuse queerness is an important aspect of normalizing the idea that queerness exists within these worlds. Also, while it is a short tale and doesn’t involve any main characters, it’s definitely not a blink-and-you-miss-it moment either.


Ultimately, turning the earthbenders’ origin story into a queer myth shows that the Avatar: The Last Airbender series has queerness in mind. I would say that for the span of the whole story, this little bit of queerness is insufficient. But for the first season of the show, I will gladly take it. Hopefully, the series and its creators understand that turning a main character queer is every bit as simple as turning Oma and Shu into queer ladies.


Zuko’s live-action actor Dallas Liu is already spreading the Zukka agenda (that’s Zuko/Sokka for the uninitiated), and that would make for an amazing twist in my book. Not to mention the character of Toph always felt very queer-coded in the cartoon. And as an earthbender, Toph would now have a beautiful queer history to follow, should she become a queer character in her own right. Of course, the Kyoshi Warriors are definitely not straight. All this to say, we’re so glad to see some queer efforts from the Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action series… And we very much look forward to seeing more.

Nerdist Editor Rotem Rusak has been a queer Avatar: The Last Airbender fan for nearly two decades. You can learn all about her love of Zuko’s story on Nerdist’s Laser Focus Podcast. She ships Zukka and is proud of it!