Friday, December 25, 2009

Is Avatar racist?

Sorry for rehashing something non-television related, but I had some thoughts on the subject since there is a fair amount of discussion on it.

Depending on your definition on the word racist -- the word is thrown around all the time -- Avatar can be considered quite racist. James Cameron is a leftist through and through, so I'm sure that was not his intent though you have to question what was going on in his mind. My opinion is that the movie is in a twisted form of colonialism where the inherent traits of a culture (in this case the Marines) allows the outsider to master and lead the natives. No matter what you call it, there is something deeply disturbing about the movie and its attitudes towards native cultures.

Behind the anti-war, anti-capitalist, pro-environment message is a story that focuses on the "white man" and his relationship with a native people whose appearance is a blend of African and American Indian. Initially unskilled at the easiest of tasks, the white man rises to the top, mastering all the skills of the native people, eventually becoming their leader, and defeating the evil outsiders.

Yes, these primitive, uncivilized savages of Pandora need a white man to guide them against the evil Sky People. Why couldn't the Na'vi handle the humans on their own? Because they are useless and weak, unable to solve problems on their own. Only the guidance of the white man will lead them to freedom.

I read an argument that Avatar is not racist because Jake Sully used what he learned from the Na'vi to defeat the outsiders without imposing Earth morals. If that were the case, the Na'vi should have defeated them on their own. Instead, they needed someone from Earth who had the ingrained ability to lead. Nobody stepped up, but Jake did. Are the Na'vi genetically worse than humans to need a human to win?

Cameron's magnum opus was intended to be a visual spectacle that required the advanced technology of the 21st century to achieve the realism his vision required. While he succeeded in visual aspect, the generic story seen in Dances With the Wolves and The Last Samurai once again is condescending on many levels. Filmmakers must realize that the concept of the noble savage being saved by the outsider is hardly glorifying to the native people. Why they continue to make movies like is anyone's guess.


Eldritch said...

That's one way to look at it. Here's another.

People tend to tell stories about themselves. Since this story was told by humans, it puts a human at the center as the hero. If the Na'vi had made this movie, a Na'vi would have fallen in with the humans, learned human skills, and then become their leader. I agree cultural sensitivity is important, but not everything has it's roots in racism. Sometimes it's just egocentrism.

TV Obsessed said...

I think it's the mindset of Hollywood to make movies featuring a human mostly because it is easier for the audience to connect with a human instead of a blue person, but by doing so, I think it maybe is inherently racist. Directors and producers don't want to be racist, but by making a white person the center of attention in a story dominated by another culture, it looks awfully bad on their part.

jnik said...

On top of all this, it happens 150 years in the future! In our time, we are 500 years after Columbus, and centuries after Cortez, Pizarro, and Rhodes, the white man has learned absolutely nothing about haw to approach people who look different from him.

I just saw "The Road", in which humanity is reduced to scragglers scrounging for food and hiding from cannibal gangs. I don't know which future is more depressing.

Eldritch said...

"I think it's the mindset of Hollywood to make movies featuring a human mostly because it is easier for the audience to connect with a human instead of a blue person, but by doing so, I think it maybe is inherently racist."

Boy, I'm hesitant to respond, for fear of finding myself arguing the white supremacist side of this. But let me ask this.

Is racism the only element you see in placing a familiar character as the protagonist in an exotic background?

"Arrested Development," I think, qualifies as such a story. Jason Bateman was the "normal" character amid a collection of exotic nutcases. He was there to give the audience someone to identify with. Surely, you wouldn't call this is a racist creed against eccentrics?

Without a human for a human audience to identify with, would it be possible to tell any first contact stories ever again?

Eldritch said...

I realize that discussions have a natural life and that this one has probably come to its end. Nevertheless, I was just at an amateur review site which reviewed the movie "Tootsie."

"Tootsie's" plot has the same structure as "Avatar." A white man enters a world an alien of a people who are not men, by disguising himself as a "native." He succeeds and dominates.

Is that enough to condemn the film as inherently sexist?

Hot said...

I think too many people are reading to much in the message of the movie. I don't think critics are going to say that Will Smith 'I am Legend', Wesley Snipes 'Blade', and Denzel Washington 'Book of Eli' are racist movies.

Keep in mind, at the end of the movie, the 'great white hero' became one of the Na'vis

jasf said...

The article by TV Obsessed is actually spot on from my point of view, I am a non white person of African decent and clearly saw a colonial theme that ran throughout the film, be it the 'great white hero' who became not one of the Na'vis.... but the Leader and Saviour of the natives, keep this in mind.

As for the comment about Will Smith 'I am Legend' yes that had racial overtones for me, in that in the very end, he had to die to protect who?

In his film 'Hancock' he was a superhero, but this Black superhero was a bum with behavioural problems, not like Batman or Superman, he even had to go to jail to correct his behaviour, even at the end the immortal lovers in this film (black man/white woman) could not be together otherwise the world would end, you either see it or you don't.

I almost forgot... the Na'vis also needed educating and schooling from childhood by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) which for me was a strange inclusion.

Hot said...

There are other political/social themes in this movie. You got anti-military (or pacifism)theme, environmental theme, a spiritual theme, and yes a colonial theme. But some of y'all acting like we saw a remake of 'Birth of a Nation' or some black and white cowboy/indian movie.

Jasf, you have to give me a list of reasons why I Am Legend has racial overtones. Its a sci fi movie with one star actor, a dog, and a city full of man eating mutants. By the way, he died to protect NYC if not the world...I guess D Washington died to protect the 'da man' at the end of the movie Book of Eli.

Like I mentioned before, too many people are reading to much or just looking to hard for hidden messages in this movie. Want to see a show with racial overtones, watch Birth of a Nation or some old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

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