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Race and the Animated Bodyscape - Constructing and Ascribing a Racialized Asian Identity in Avatar and Korra

Race and the Animated Bodyscape

Constructing and Ascribing a Racialized Asian Identity in Avatar and Korra

By Francis M. Agnoli
Hardcover : 9781496845085, 216 pages, 15 b&w illustrations, April 2023
Paperback : 9781496845092, 216 pages, 15 b&w illustrations, April 2023

How race is constructed and ascribed in the fantasy world of one popular US franchise


Race does not exist in animation—it must instead be constructed and ascribed. Yet, over the past few years, there has been growing discourse on the intersection of these two subjects within both academic and popular circles. In Race and the Animated Bodyscape: Constructing and Ascribing a Racialized Asian Identity in "Avatar" and "Korra," author Francis M. Agnoli introduces and illustrates the concept of the animated bodyscape, looking specifically at the US television series Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel, The Legend of Korra.

Rather than consider animated figures as unified wholes, Agnoli views them as complexes of signs, made up of visual, aural, and narrative components that complement, contradict, and otherwise interact with each other in the creation of meaning. Every one of these components matters, as they are each the result of a series of creative decisions made by various personnel across different production processes. This volume (re)constructs production narratives for Avatar and Korra using original and preexisting interviews with cast and crew members as well as behind-the-scenes material. Each chapter addresses how different types of components were generated, tracing their development from preliminary research to final animation. In doing so, this project identifies the interlocking sets of production communities behind the making of animation and thus behind the making of racialized identities.

Due to its illusory and constructed nature, animation affords untapped opportunities to approach the topic of race in media, looking beyond the role of the actor and taking into account the various factors and processes behind the production of racialized performances. The analysis of race and animation calls for a holistic approach, one that treats both the visual and the aural as intimately connected. This volume offers a blueprint for how to approach the analysis of race and animation.


"Francis M. Agnoli’s work is ahead of the curve in dealing with American animation efforts to represent Asian-ness and with the international production system that is becoming the standard for the industry."

- Richard J. Leskosky, independent animation studies scholar and former president of the Society for Animation Studies

"Francis M. Agnoli provides a thorough study of the American TV anime series Avatar and Korra. By exploring the complexities of the production process, this book offers needful insight into matters of race, Asian identity, and the concept of the animated bodyscape."

- Tze-yue G. Hu, author of Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building and coeditor of Animating the Spirited: Journeys and Transformations

"Race and the Animated Bodyscape intervenes in the fields of animation study and ethnicfocused discussion in nonlive-action media with theoretical and methodological ingenuity. The holistic approach that gives voices to insider perspectives on the creative processes allows us to unravel the interconnected network of animation production."

- Xinyu Chen, Journal of Popular Culture