Points of Articulation
An Open Letter to Mattel
Hi, Mattel. We really need to talk.
We've let this go long enough, in the hopes that you'd see the error of your ways. But now it's clear that unless someone points this out to you, things are never going to change. Yes, it's time for an intervention.
There's a major, major, major problem with your Avatar: The Last Airbender figures. One that you haven't even taken the smallest steps to correct. Specifically, the fact that after numerous series of figures, we still don't have even a single girl.
Now, yes, we at OAFE often complain about the lack of female action figures, but it's especially bad in this case. Avatar: The Last Airbender is absolutely packed with kick-ass female role models, but every one of them has been blatantly ignored. Think about the sort of insipid, vacuous lifestyle being sold to girls by the Bratz dolls - Avatar is the diametric opposite. In a world of properties that tell young ladies all they need in life is to be good at shopping, Avatar is the solitary voice encouraging them to be interesting, independent people.
The girls of Avatar aren't window dressing or secondary characters, they're right there in the thick of it, just as interesting as the boys... if not moreso. But Mattel, you haven't even made one. It's beyond negligent; it's downright embarassing. Every time a new wave of figures comes out and there's no Katara, no Toph, no Azula or anyone else, you're sending a very clear message: "we don't know the first thing about the property we're selling toys for." It's like you were handed the character design sheets and never saw an episode of the show.
Where's Katara, the Waterbender from the South Pole who awoke Aang and was his first friend in the world? Mature and passionate, Katara rejects her tribe's traditional gender roles to become one of the most powerful characters on the show.
Where's Toph, the blind princess who's tough as nails? This tomboy left her pampered life of luxury in order to travel with the Avatar and teach him Earthbending. She's direct and confrontational, even though her parents tried everything to keep her secluded and protected.
Where's Azula, the cruel Firebender whose abilities are incredibly advanced? In a show where even the "villains" are sympathetic, she (along with her friends Ty Lee and Mai, two more remarkable girls) is easily one of the most terrifying threats.
Where's Suki, the Kyoshi Warrior? For that matter, where's Avatar Kyoshi herself? An entire island full of soliders in kabuki make-up and samurai armor - perfect army builders - and we don't have even one yet.
Can anyone imagine a company having the Marvel license and never making Spider-Man or Wolverine? How about if DC Superheroes or JLU didn't have a single Batman or Superman? What if Hasbro decided not to put a Darth Vader on the shelves? Honestly, Mattel, that's what you've done here, by shunning the females. These aren't supporting castmembers you've cut off, here, these are main characters, important central parts of the world. You wouldn't make a Harry Potter line and not give us Hermione, would you? Oh, wait, you already did. Look how that turned out. Should we wait five years for NECA to do it right, instead?
Whenever the lack of female action figures is questioned, companies always come back with the same canned response: "Oh, boys don't buy girl figures." Well no kidding! Boys can't buy what doesn't exist! No one can. Girl figures don't sell? Tell that to your own DC Superheroes, with its Batgirl and two different Supergirls. Tell that to the fast-selling animated Batgirl figure. Tell it to three versions of Wonder Woman, two Hawkgirls, a Dr. Light, Supergirl, Zatanna, Katma Tui, Huntress, Vixen, Black Canary, Star Sapphire, Volcana, Big Barda... how many more of your own JLU figures do you want me to name? The claim that female figures don't sell is asinine and unsupportable. The facts are against you, and have been for years, but all we ever hear are the same tired excuses. Honestly, it makes you sound foolish, and just leaves us frustrated.
Mattel, if you make the women, they'll sell. Avatar: The Last Airbender appeals to more than just the 8-12 crowd: ordinary kids' shows don't get upwards of 4 million people tuning in. Avatar has legions of adult fans who are desperate for good merchandise, but you've consistently failed to take advantage of that. You're the only source, and you're letting us down. Make a series that features all girls, buy some banner ads on Avatar fan sites and the damn things will fly out of the stores. Hell, make them a store-exclusive box set. If it's good enough for Doomsday and Gorilla Grodd, it's good enough for Avatar.
The reason that "girls don't sell" is because "companies don't make them." It's time to change that, Mattel. It's time for you to step up and become an industry leader. Your turnaround between the Batman line and DC Superheroes was nothing short of amazing. No one thought you could turn a such a major failure into such a popular line, especially in so short a time. It took, what, less than a year to change the fans' thinking about the Mattel name? You went from being a punchline to commanding respect, and that is absolutely stunning. Great job! Now it's time to change your attitude toward female figures, and Avatar: The Last Airbender is the property to help you do it.
There is quite literally an army of ass-kicking girls right smack in the middle of your license, just waiting to be turned into toys. Make 'em, sell 'em, and show the world that when every other toy company was still thinking like they were stuck in the '80s, Mattel stepped up and set a new path, showing everyone how to do things right. Or just keep doing what you're doing, and remain that company that "could have been" great, that "came close" to being the best. Your Avatar toys could be groundbreaking, or they could be remembered for completely missing the point. It's all up to you.