Korrasami, Queer Representation and Saying Goodbye to the “Legend of Korra”

Something monumental happened last Friday. If you aren’t part of the cultish and rabid fandom of the Legend of Korra, you probably didn’t hear about it. The show, which in all fairness for its entire four seasons remained a primarily kids’ animated TV show produced by Nickelodeon, aired its finale for its fourth and final season. At the very very end of the finale (SPOILERS!), the main character Korra, who is an ever-powerful being reincarnated into human form every lifetime, walked off into the sunset with a woman. Holding hands. Like they literally decided to go on holiday (queer code for honeymoon) and in the final shot, they held hands and then gazed into each other’s eyes lovingly while the music crescendoed.

For most of the fandom, this was a clear sign of the moment they’d been hoping and praying for since the show reached the end of its second season — the confirmation of a femslash pairing that had been the most popular ship for years: Korrasami.

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Korra, the avatar, and Asami Sato, the woman she “ends up with” in the end, started as rivals in Book One of the series. Korra and Asami both dated Mako, and for a while there, Makorra seemed like it would happen. But they broke up, and in the Book Four finale, the two shared a brofist moment when Mako told Korra that he would “follow her into battle” anyday, anyhow. Mako’s brother Bolin was also a possible romantic interest for Korra, until he found the airbender Opal. In the end, most fans didn’t dare hope for Korrasami to actually happen, even though Korra and Asami’s close relationship had been built over the course of three books. This was a kids’ show on Nickelodeon that had been taken off the air and made online for showing a murder on screen.

But in the end, it’s Asami that Korra holds hands with, Asami that Korra decides to vacation with, Asami who’s there for her in the end, Asami with whom Korra shares lingering glances and momentary intimacies. For a kids’ show to go this far in confirming a canon romantic relationship between two women — this is groundbreaking in the U.S.

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From Tumblr

For a long time, Korrasami shippers assumed that the creators of the Legend of Korra were queerbaiting, the concept of introducing a character using well-known codes of queerness in order to appeal to a queer audience. The character will often have interactions with a same-sex partner or friend that seem to hint at a queer romance. The character exists purely as a way for the writers to grab a queer audience, who they know will latch onto any seemingly coded characters because of the absolute lack of queer representation in mainstream media. Eventually, though, the writers will unequivocally show us just how straight the character is, often by pairing them off in a good straight coupling.

When the Legend of Korra started teasing the Korrasami ship by showing significant glances between the two characters, by having an increasing closeness between them, and later by showing moments of physical intimacy, I assumed that they were queer baiting. After all, this was a kids’ show on Nickelodeon. Why would they do what all these other shows hadn’t done? But they did. They did the thing. They went there. They pushed it further than I ever expected them to go. They gave us hugs, hand holding, walking off into the sunset, and that final moment when the two women face each other. Creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have always given us amazing moments, like letting their female characters go bald and get tattoos. And now, they gave us Korrasami.

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Jinora’s moment in the Book 3 finale made everyone tearbend.

Some people are happy to see the Legend of Korra mirror the final scenes of Avatar: The Last Airbender with the Avatar in a romantic relationship. But others are complaining because they say the relationship wasn’t built up, they wanted Korra to end up alone as a statement, and they wanted the series to focus on a non-romantic close friendship between two females as a feminist statement. Here is my response:

1. The relationship WAS built up as much as it could be with a children’s TV show on a kid’s network. There were significant glances, an increasing closeness, hand holding at the end of Book 3, etc. In Book 4, Asami is the only one Korra writes to. She blushes when Asami complements her hair. They have been each other’s person for two books by the time the Book 4 finale happens.The reason many people didn’t notice is because we are primed to assume that everyone is straight until told explicitly otherwise. This is heterosexism, and straight privilege. If Korra and Asami were an opposite-sex friendship, and nothing else about their interaction changed, no one would have said they were blindsided by the ending.

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2. Yes, it’s a feminist statement to show Korra alone, or to have Asami and Korra be best female friends because it’s so rare. But you know what’s even more rare? Queer representation. Part of straight privilege is seeing straight couples everywhere. Everywhere you look, there is validation of your sexuality. For queer people, this is not the case. It is a RADICAL feminist statement to have a representation of queer female sexuality in a kid’s TV show in America. This is far more of a radical statement than it would’ve been to not allow a romantic interpretation to the relationship.

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3. Many people live out their lives believing they’re liberal and open minded. It’s only when confronted with queerness in a place they weren’t expecting, like a show that they love, that their subtle homophobia and anti-queer microaggression comes to light. It’s not your fault. We live in a society that privileges straightness, and we are socialized to be selfish. What I think is happening is that straight people had thought of Korra as their own, and suddenly this makes her other. With the absolute dearth of queer representation out there, this ending is a boon. Let the queer community have this.

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Update: the show’s creators have officially confirmed that the ending sequence was meant to say that Korrasami is canon, and that hand holding was as far as the network was willing to let them go with it. Unfortunately, reading between the lines, this could also mean this is why the show was taken off the air halfway through the third season. Now that Nicktoons is re-airing Korra Book 4, we will have to wait to find out if they air the full season finale. Not everyone will agree about whether or not the show pushed the envelope far enough, but having official confirmation at least lays to rest questions of queer baiting, where by definition the characters end up straight in the end through a straight coupling. Both Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have written statements confirming Korrasami, with Bryan acknowledging that it’s not a “slam-dunk victory” for queer representation, but that it’s hopefully a “significant inching forward.” I hope we continue to talk about this show, and about queer representation in the media.


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44 Comments

    • 0

      ME TOO!! After book 1 I was like, “Nope,” and completely checked out. Mako was such an ass to both of them, and Asami was written as such a love triangle/perfect woman plot device in book 1, which drove me nuts. I nearly choked when I saw the Korrasami screencap online last night!

  1. 0

    I watched the ending with two of my friends, all of us queer, and when they held hands the bisexual girl was more excited than she was when the play she was part of won best in state. Korra is queer without discounting her past relations with men- it’s the best representation to happen since my friend came out, and her joy at the cute girl couple walking hand in hand into the glowing DNA beam is probably the best part of Christmas for me this year.

    • 0

      Good point! I’m kind of surprised I haven’t seen anyone else mention that. Not only has this kids’ show confirmed a lesbian relationship as canon, but they’ve done so in a way that avoids bisexual erasure. That brings a smile to my face. The world could really use more shows like this for kids/teens.

  2. 0

    When someone told me something wonderful happened at the end I jokingly said Korrasami, but that actually meant I felt let down by the end. Strange for the series to be continued online for an adult audience and then let them off as not queerbaiting because it was a show for kids…
    I respect all the points above, I just don’t know that we’ll hold this up as a shining beacon years later. HOWEVER I might change my mind when some comics pop up like the Avatar ones 🙂

  3. 0

    Before I watched the ending, I saw angry Makorra shippers on tumblr and I thought “maybe Korrasami” happened, maybe my otp became canon, but then I brushed the thought out of my mind as too hopeful. When I finally watched the episode, I was so excited and I now hope they don’t ruin it in the comics.

  4. 0

    Yesss, I have been hoping an article about this would pop up on AS! I checked out of this show entirely after book 1 because Mako was such a douchebag and Bryke were making so many excuses for him. Debating whether I should go back and actually watch the series now…

    • 0

      My family and most of my friends and I also stopped watching after Book 1, because we were so angry about Mako, Makorra, and the creators defending everything. However, Book 2 was a lot better (Give it at least until at the end of episode 10, because that one is beautiful and we sobbed our way through most of it!) and Books 3 and 4 are A++. I’m so glad I came back to it, especially now that the finale was so perfect.

  5. 0

    My heart was screaming with elation when I saw the final episode on Friday. =) It was a very happy and sad day. Happy to know that Korrasami is canon and sad that the series was ending. I’m glad they did “the thing” and pushed the envelope. I can only hope to see more progress in television and media as time goes on.

  6. 0

    My best friend’s facebook status about the finale actually said THEY DID THE THING, and I was at first confused, but slowly realized. Everything was awesome that day.

  7. 0

    I stopped watching Korra mostly because she dated Mako and I thought that Makorra would be endgame, and because I didn’t like the way Nickelodeon treated the show and the creators, so to have my OTP (what I considered to be a crack pairing originally) become canon has been amazing. To imply an endgame relationship between two bisexual (or pansexual) women of color on a kid’s tv show is certainly radical and groundbreaking and wonderful and it gave me so many feelings.

    But I think we can do better. I mean, ATLA ended with Aang and Katara kissing, and they were much younger than Korra and Asami. So I would have liked to see an on-screen kiss, or some other concrete representation rather than an implication. For me, the ending scene seemed too vague, like the creators wanted to show a queer couple but the network forced them to make it more heteronormative – OH WAIT THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. It just feels like Nickelodeon was cheating, trying to win over the gay community without losing the support of the straight majority. I mean, Forbes talked about how it was revolutionary – because it ended in friendship, rather than love. Seriously. By leaving it vague and leaving room for straight people to argue that Korra and Asami are special friends, it takes away from the moment and it leaves me uneasy.

    • 0

      I agree with this. I will also say that Aang and Katara making out like that severely bothered me because they were soooo young. I just find it incredibly bizarre that it’s okay to depict prepubescent kids (well, one of them, anyway) cramming their tongues down each other’s throats on TV, and it’s supposed to be ~beautiful~, but two *adult* women are eww deviant think of the children? I just don’t get it, I don’t understand society XD

    • 0

      The Forbes review is in the minority. VF, AVClub, io9, IGN, The Mary Sue, denofgeek, fempop, IBT, among many others have all viewed Korrasami as a romantic couple in their reviews.

      Sure, the relationship may not have been as explicit as many of us would have liked but it was explicit enough for the majority of reviewers out there to see it, and I’m assuming that most of those reviewers aren’t the kind of people to watch the show with lesbian subtext googles firmly in place.

      Korra and Asami had moments that are only shared between couples in the Avatar universe (the blushing, the way they held both hands while looking at each other) and most viewers picked up on those queues and accepted that Korra and Asami are heading towards a romantic relationship. Even if they showed a kiss at the end the people who are in denial about the relationship now would still be in denial and trying to create a narrative about how it was just about friendship (see: Ellie/Riley from TLOU).

    • 0

      Yeah, I agree with you. I think if something needs a creator clarification to tell people that it’s “real” (as Bryke did on his Tumblr), you can’t really call it “representation.” This is barely more representation than Dumbledore–a little more because they did at least build up the relationship by showing them as affectionate, but by keeping it firmly in the room where people not looking for it would see it as “just friends” (“plenty of female friends hold hands! and choose their friendships over boys!”) it doesn’t really accomplish what “representation” is supposed to do, so I don’t think it counts.

      I also wouldn’t say that this is really much more than has been done many times before in children’s cartoons, if you count Bryke’s post about it out of the equation. There is a long history in queer subtext in the form of extremely close same-sex friendships in children’s media. But again, only queer viewers see it that way until it’s pointed out by someone else. So is this really anything special beyond intent? Does it really say anything to the viewers who aren’t reading and engaging with thinkpieces about it?

      I say no, so “representation” it isn’t. It’s still firmly in the realm of queerbaiting. (Heck, aren’t the dudes in Supernatural more affectionate than this?)

      • 0

        From Bryan Konietzko:

        “Was it a slam-dunk victory for queer representation? I think it falls short of that, but hopefully it is a somewhat significant inching forward. It has been encouraging how well the media and the bulk of the fans have embraced it.”

        and he also addresses network limitations:

        “We approached the network and while they were supportive there was a limit to how far we could go with it, as just about every article I read accurately deduced. It was originally written in the script over a year ago that Korra and Asami held hands as they walked into the spirit portal. We went back and forth on it in the storyboards, but later in the retake process I staged a revision where they turned towards each other, clasping both hands in a reverential manner, in a direct reference to Varrick and Zhu Li’s nuptial pose from a few minutes prior. We asked Jeremy Zuckerman to make the music tender and romantic, and he fulfilled the assignment with a sublime score.

        […]

        I love how their relationship arc took its time, through kindness and caring. If it seems out of the blue to you, I think a second viewing of the last two seasons would show that perhaps you were looking at it only through a hetero lens.”

        I don’t think it’s fair at all to accuse them of “queerbaiting” when the couple is canon and just about every mainstream review has recognized it as such. Could there have been a more explicit depiction of their romance? Sure, and maybe now that networks have seen that a canonically gay couple in “kid’s programming” didn’t cause the sky to fall maybe a show like Adventure Time can finally get the green light to take the next step forward with PB/Marceline.

        • 0

          There have been children’s shows that showed families with two dads or two moms, so I don’t even think it’s actually all that progressive for children’s TV. If you take intent out of the equation (as I think we should when talking about “representation,” that should be more about audience reaction), there’s actually nothing here that hasn’t been done many times.

          Part of the issue with it is they DIDN’T really build up to this reveal, and it feels like an ass-pull. Especially when contrasted with the heterosexual romance and kissing throughout the show’s runtime. That’s the thing that I think is really being left out of the conversation here: that this isn’t a typical “kids’ show” in terms of there not being much romance in it at all. Korra has a TON of HETEROSEXUAL romance. (Also, it’s not a typical “kids’ show” in that there weren’t really many kids watching it, and the creators and execs were aware of this by this point, as it was why they pulled it to only show online. They knew their audience was mostly teenage and adult A:TLA super-fans.)

          In my article on queerbaiting that the author linked here, the main thing I wanted to impress is “double standards.” It’s one thing if you have a show where neither heterosexual nor queer couples ever get beyond hand-holding. But when you show lots of straight kissing and romance but your queer couples only get hand-holding? That’s a double standard, and when you go on about how much you want the queer community to notice as Brian did in that post, it’s very clearly in the tradition of “queerbaiting.” It’s reeling in our viewership without doing anything clear that could alienate the rest of it.

          His whole post actually reeked of self-congratulatory sentiment to me and made me feel really uncomfortable. Straight TV writers don’t get to tell the LGBT community what we should and shouldn’t consider “progress.” I’m kind of just sick of being told, period, that I should be MORE considerate of straight dudes’ feelings on this matter rather than less.

          • 0

            And as for making it about “audience reaction,” I don’t think it matters that a lot of reviewers who are paid to think more deeply about this stuff are picking up on it (largely because reviewers are way more engaged with “fandom” than they ever have been, I think). Most viewers don’t read reviews or thinkpieces on their favorite media. The reaction on Tumblr, where so many Makorra shippers and other straight fans insist it’s not canon, says enough about how a lot of people are going to take this ending.

          • 0

            I think it goes without saying that everyone who cares recognizes the double standard that’s in place, but to expect LoK or any other children’s show to break that down in one network defying leap is setting them up with unrealistic expectations. Progress is being made, and while other shows have had minor gay characters pop up here and there, no other children’s show had the title character walk off into the sunset in a canonically gay relationship.

            Korrasami meant a lot to many young viewers out there who were able to pick up on the visual and narrative queues, and honestly seeing posts like this that make the perfect the enemy of the good while brushing off the progress that has been made because it doesn’t meet your political ideals, well…

    • 0

      I agree. But Nickelodeon being the douche that they are, left some “boundaries” so it wouldn’t be overly “sexual”. That is what this is all about all along. People think that being queer is something highly sexual and wrong that the kids wouldn’t understand. Whereas I’m pretty sure several kids would(there are many kids around the world who are queer and confused and left uneasy and unanswered and feeling alone and wrong, in the world nowadays for Raava’s sake!). Ignoring queer privileges in kids tv is like degrading the (queer)kids’ rights as a human.

      I’m sure Bryke wanted to do more in the show, but what I’m not so sure of is showing a kiss would be the right time. I would have liked an explicit statement on Korrasami to be honest but I don’t know if I want a kiss just yet. Not that I’m against the idea but I don’t think their in that stage yet. I know Makorra kissed after like 0.000001 millisecond Korra confessed to Mako in the end. But in Korrasami I see them as different. I don’t think they’d move that fast. What I would have suggested was for a love confession. They could have told each other how much they love each other EXPLICITLY on the show and then once they enter the Spirit World, they will have much more time to explore their newfound relationship and learn more about it.

      For me personally, I think it would ruin the slow paced development in romance they had if they kissed immediately and so suddenly. Their maturity and growing up, especially on Korra’s part have told me that they are willing to take their relationship in a slow paced kind of progression. But that’s just me. 🙂

  8. 0

    I’d like to point out that Aang and Katara’s first kiss faded out before they locked lips, for mirroring that I’m so happy. As an often touch deprived asexual I would have loved for them to just be best friends who broke the touch barrier, but that is just not what it was.

  9. 0

    I was so disappointed with LOK for most of the first 3 seasons because I felt like the creators just gave her this piss poor personality compared to Aang and I am SO GLAD I KEPT WATCHING!!!!!! I generally cry pretty easily at that show and yeah, I pretty much sobbed the entire 2nd half.

  10. 0

    This post says it all:
    http://summerlightning.tumblr.com/post/105829545997/i-am-very-curious-to-know-what-you-think-about

    an excerpt:

    “I saw five episodes where heterosexual couples were featured heavily front and center. There was a whole episode devoted to Bolin trying to win Opal’s heart back: the pivotal betrayal of Bataar’s trust by Kuvira, and scene after scene of Varrick and Zhu Li shenanigans, not to mention their wedding closing out the show. Amongst all these happenings, Korra and Asami talked for less than two minutes, held hands, and decided to go off on a spur of the moment trip together.”

    • 0

      What this post is saying: Ok, so we’ve come a ways, but we have SO FAR TO GO! Boo!

      What I’m saying: We have so far to go, but OMG LOOK HOW FAR WE’VE COME! Yay!

      Glass half full, half empty. A matter of perspective. Does this mean we stop fighting for representation in which queer ppl love each other openly shows? Of course not. We keep on trekking forward, keep on fighting. But do we celebrate the small victories that happen? For fucking duh.

    • 0

      Thanks so much for sharing that link! It beautifully expresses all of the weird feelings I’ve been having since watching the finale, along with Ash’s follow-up post:

      http://summerlightning.tumblr.com/post/105835122052/i-completely-agree-with-you-about-the-korra

      I’ve wanted Korrasami since Asami was first introduced but the finale scene was just… unsatisfying. I feel like there was as much canon support of Korrasami as there was for Raleigh/Mako in Pacific Rim and I want Korrasami so badly but I don’t feel like I got it. I got plausible deniability and it stinks.

      Tbh the Korrasami scene was the least satisfying part of the finale for me.

  11. 0

    I stopped watching Season 2 Episode 6. WAAAY back when season 1 came out (back when I assumed I was straight) I shipped Makorra. I know, I know. But by the time season 2 came out I was questioning my sexuality, and was bored out of my mind at all the straight couples on TV. And then Mako went back to Asami and I just groaned. I kept meaning to catch up but nothing was pulling me back to the show. Until last Friday when facebook and Twitter were blowing up with Korrasami (which I never used to understand cuz they hardly interacted the first two seasons). Yesterday I sat down and finished season 2 and am now halfway through season 3, and I’m kicking myself cuz the show got REALLY GOOD again at Season 2 Episode 7.

    • 0

      LOL yeah I was just about to comment, “Oh, but the show actually found its feet in the VERY NEXT EPISODE!” Glad you gave it another chance! If I hadn’t seen spoilers for the spirit world episode in season 2, I never would have gone back to it, but I’m so very glad I did.

  12. 0

    I was SO FUCKING EXCITED as I watched the ending, and SO FUCKING DISAPPOINTED that they panned away without showing Asami and Korra kiss. But knowing Nickelodeon’s history of fucking creators of awesome shows over, I would bet my Christmas cookies that the network made the final decision to avoid showing them kiss.

    I can totally understand why some of you are saying you stopped watching after Book 1 because of Makorra, but I’d really advise you to go back and finish the series. As the series went on, I actually really loved how Korra and Asami became good friends and NOT rivals for Mako’s affection. Their friendship, before it became clear that it had become more than that, was revolutionary even before they walked into the spirit portal hand in hand. And Korra became more and more her own person throughout the series. All the characters did, IMO. Plus, if you were a fan of A:TLA, you need to keep watching if you want to be reunited with some old friends…

  13. 0

    Korrasami confirmed as canon by the creators:

    From Mike DiMartino:

    “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. Many news outlets, bloggers, and fans picked up on this and didn’t find it ambiguous. For the most part, it seems like the point of the scene was understood and additional commentary wasn’t really needed from Bryan or me. But in case people were still questioning what happened in the last scene, I wanted to make a clear verbal statement to complement the show’s visual one.”

    http://mikedimartinostory.com/2014/12/22/korrasami-confirmed/

    and

    Bryan Konetzko:

    “You can celebrate it, embrace it, accept it, get over it, or whatever you feel the need to do, but there is no denying it. That is the official story. We received some wonderful press in the wake of the series finale at the end of last week, and just about every piece I read got it right: Korra and Asami fell in love. Were they friends? Yes, and they still are, but they also grew to have romantic feelings for each other.”

    http://bryankonietzko.tumblr.com/post/105916338157/korrasami-is-canon-you-can-celebrate-it-embrace

    I suggest reading both posts in their entirety as they provide some very interesting insight.

  14. 0

    I just started watching TLOK this month with my brother! Binged watched from S1-S4. I really thought it was going to be Makorra as endgame in Book 1. But I started noticing something odd by Book 3. And, frickkken sweeeettbeeeggeezus. My brother even shouted it out that there was some lesbian thing going on between korra and asami. I did my research and found the happy korrasami fandom! 🙂 My favorite ship in the world! Woo!

    I didn’t really want to keep my expectations high for the finale since shows always ruin queer couples! but then oh my god… I was screaming deep inside when the final minutes were just devoted for korra and asami. That was it! I flipped the table! They were endgame. I watched it like 10x just because I can’t believe it actually happened.

    I mean. You really didn’t have to be gay to see that coming.

  15. 0

    Hooray! This is amazing, I wish more tv shows represented queer female and male sexuality. Any shows anyone knows about that have men who dated women but then realized they like men too and started dating each other? 🙂

  16. 0

    That ending was straight garbage, I loved the first season and thought the show was going in a nice direction, but I guess we just have to shove the gay agenda into everything! Not even so called “Children’s shows” are safe enough now without television and the people in charge of it trying to beat the veal out of this dead horse called the lgbt community. I havent watched an episode of this show since that lesbian trash aired and I definitely won’t watch more of it. Shame on you nickelodeon

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