Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is Avatar Racist?

Spoiler Alert -- Do not read if you haven't seen but plan to see Avatar.

I was directed by a tweet to an story in the Japan Times on line saying that a small but vocal minority of people believe that Avatar is racist. First, the phrase "small but vocal" wants to be looked at. What it may mean is that there are two or three people who are extremely talkative who believe this. This article begins
Near the end of the hit film "Avatar," the villain snarls at the hero, Both men are white — although the hero is inhabiting a blue-skinned, 2.75-meter-tall, long-tailed alien. "How does it feel to betray your own race?"
This is funny.  The avatar is no longer an avatar whose brain is being controlled by a white man lying in a device that facilitates this control, but is instead a Na’vi man if someone in a manufactured Na’vi body whose human brain has been transferred into this body can be said to be a Na’vi person. The insulter should have said, "How does it feel to betray your former race?"

One idiot promoting this thesis says
"The ethnic Na'vi," he writes, "need the White man to save them because, as a less developed race, they lack the intelligence and fortitude to overcome their adversaries by themselves."
This is so inaccurate I have to believe the author did not see the movie or is incapable of seeing what is in front of his face. The Na'vi defeated the white devils thanks to Jake's knowledge of the white devil's military hardware and tactics and the intelligence and fortitude of the Na'vi and the assistance of other inhabitants of Pandora. Far from lacking fortitude, the Na'vi threw themselves into battle without regard for their personal safety. Jake's growing understanding of the Pandoran ecosystem played a critical role as well in that he (quite literally) plugged into the ecosystem seeking it to intercede on behalf of the planet. Had he not become an authentic Na'vi in spirit, that intercession would not have worked.

James Cameron set himself up for this criticism by using a white actor to play Jake and a person of color to play the Na'vi princess he fell in love with. Had he simply used an African American or English speaking African our critics would be in a hell of a position. It would no longer be a white man saving the blue-colored people but a person of color saving a person of a different color, but it would still be a human rescuing the people of Avatar. So, at the worst, Cameron's mistake was he cast a White man in the role of Jake.  Casting a white man made economic sense, I suppose, but it isn't just white people who save others in movies.  Will Smith saved the planet in one movie and I understand that Denzel Washington saves the planet in a new movie I haven't yet seen.

I am so tired of people playing the "race card" I want to vomit all over this blog. I got into the civil rights movement back in 1960 when it was a serious business because African Americans were denied most basic human rights in the South, including Texas and Oklahoma, as well as other places. The change over these 50 years has been stunning. And guess what? A lot of white people worked alongside African Americans to make the civil rights revolution happen. The lesson from that time is that when there is injustice everyone is obligated to do his or her part. That is the lesson of Pandora. The three white people who controlled the Avatars as spies all "got religion" and did what they could to help the Na'vi defeat the occupying army.  It is a good thing when people of any color assist people of any color.  The Haitian relief effort is a prime case.  Is that relief effort racist because white people are helping persons of color?

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Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

Funny thing. When the earthquake took place causing such devastation and human suffering, I did not see color. All I saw were people in great need of help.

11:21 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

We humans are hard-wired to recognize others as humans and are hard-wired to cooperate with others. But we tend to want to help only those in our affinity groups -- neighbors, families, same race, etc. A great tragedy like this helps us to break out of narrow perceptions of who is like us. Unless one is a a hater like Limbaugh or Robertson.

9:44 AM

Blogger Icarus said...

I guess they've never heard of 'the human race'.

10:51 AM

Blogger Adam T said...

it is sad that people so often canot see other people but colors around them. So its so much greater tragedy when sb canot see peoplee even in a face of such tragedy.

2:39 PM


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