Avatar: “Totally racist, dude.”


After many years of leaving us to wallow in superhero films, James Cameron has returned with one of the most hyped films…well since Transformers 2.

After seeing trailers, stills, some clips and words from the director himself, you might be concerned that it might just be another bloated CGI wankfest ready to pick up the quick cash during the opening weekend and make way for the DVD.  Sure, Avatar does business just like the others, but it’s not as bad as Wolverine…but that’s not saying much.

After 14 years of development, Cameron’s tale of white man going native a la Dance with Wolves actually holds itself together amongst the dizzying array of special effects.  Though some worried that the love story would turn into Titanic II: THE SPACEBOAT!, it is certainly less groan-worthy than Jack and Rose’s contrived chemistry.

Beyond that and we have to talk shop.  The film’s special effects have been trumpeted all year, with Cameron frequently commenting on the film’s photorealistic CGI.  Don’t drink the Kool-aid.  The CGI is better than Lucas’ foray with the Star Wars prequels, but whenever we see the real stuff it just highlights the digital fakery.  One friend commented that CGIs perfection is why we’ll never buy into it.  The world of Pandora is just like that – beautiful in so many ways, but too pristine, too perfect.  Like Agent Smith explaining to Morpheus about the first “perfect” Matrix, you just can’t buy it.  In the end, though the CGI is better than previous offenses to cinematic form, it never finds the balance that made watching Lord of the Rings so thrilling.

And of course the discussion of CGI was filled with complimentary trumpetings of the film’s 3D prowess.  Again, put down the Kool-aid.  The 3D work didn’t bother me near as much as Coraline, but it just doesn’t make you feel like you’re there, contrary to Cameron commentary.  There are a few moments during the film where if you focus just right, you do feel like you’re sharing the same room with the characters.  But these moments are frustratingly brief and are never during a scene with major fireworks.  Cameron’s 3D technology is probably better than the current crop, but this doesn’t change cinema history.

The most interesting aspect to Avatar, however, is not found in the film’s spectacle, but all the subtle ideologies running against each other.  The film is about a white, male Marine, Jake Sully (though Sam Worthington’s Australian accents slips itself in every now and again, conveyed Americaness dominates).  Sully’s job is to go deep undercover to learn about Pandora’s native populations, the Na’vi.  In fact, they put him in a genetically engineered Na’vi body.  Now, if we put a white man in the body of a genetically engineered black man, how well do you think that cracker in black face is going to be received? Start arguing now.

Sure, Sully gets picked at by the Na’vi, but they still admit him into their home, letting him in on their most treasured secrets.  Then, after Sully’s intel is used to destroy the Na’vi home by his fellow Marines, he comes back to save the day with rousing speeches about the “Sky People,” teaching them that they can’t “take what they want” and that “this is our land!”

But it’s not his land!   And this is where the racial power dynamics of today get played out in this mega-blockbuster in an unsettling manner.  Sully’s privileged position (a “Sky Person”) allows him to go back and forth between the two different worlds.  Though he decries the greedy destructive ways of his people, the very power and underlying thought of such ways are what grant him access to the body of a genetically engineered native (this is also the ironic twist to all of Cameron’s films: they all warn of abusing technology, yet abuse it to create the world we see on screen).   Sully has the power to choose between being a dominating “Sky Person” or a Na’vi victim, which in the end yields greater power – the audience’s empathy.  Only white men are privileged enough to have such choices.

By the end of the film you’re left wondering why the film needed the Jake Sully character at all.  The film could have done just as well by focusing on an actual Na’vi native who comes into contact with crazy humans who have no respect for the environment.  I can just see the explanation: “Well, we need someone (an avatar) for the audience to connect with.  A normal guy [read, a white male] will work better than these tall blue people.”  However, this is the type of thinking that molds all leads as white male characters (blank slates for the audience to project themselves upon) unless your name is Will Smith.

Unfortunately, I expect that few will comment on this point and that makes the film more dangerous than Bay’s jingoistic statements at the end of Transformers.

In the end, Avatar doesn’t live up to the hype, but of course, how could it?  Heralded as a film that would change film history, usher in a new day of photorealistic CGI and immersive (i.e. not annoying) 3D, there’s no way it could live up to such expectations.  Unfortunately though, it doesn’t even hold up when compared to Cameron’s previous works.  The helicopter chase scene in Terminator 2 was the last time Cameron did something that was truly thrilling.  That’s because of the filmic aura of real objects interacting with the real world.  As one io9 blogger commented, filmmakers have gone mad with the power that CGI affords them, akin to having “The Bomb.”  Films like District 9 know how to use it responsibly, AKA, know when not to use it.  Unfortunately for Avatar, there’s just so much CGI being used that it entrenches itself within the categories of an animated film.  And of course, when you hear Sully talking about “our land” it just makes you cringe, especially if you’re a white dude from the United States.  We should not make such claims to cultures; even claims to fictional ones are in bad taste.

Cameron may be king of the world–but it’s a world that, though beautiful, doesn’t really exist. And underneath it all is an ugly racial dynamic that reminds us Americans why we’re seen as the bad guys on and off the screen.

:note:

My assertion of Jake Sully as emblematic of current racial power dynamics resides on the film’s inability to convince me that after three months of living with the Na’vi and being directly responsible for the destruction of the Na’vi’s World Trade Center, that he can make claims to “our land.”  This is further problematized by Sully’s shifting allegiances throughout the film’s first two acts (whoever is speaking to him, Na’vi, scientist, colonel, he swears by).

Finally, to really show Sully moving away from the human world and becoming a part of the Na’vi, more scenes were needed establishing Sully’s disregard for his human body (where’s Christian Bale’s emaciation from The Machinist when you need it?).

If Sully had spent more time with the Na’vi, wasn’t responsible for destroying their home, showed some conviction before a last second attempt to warn the Na’vi, and included more scenes of his body’s decay, Cameron might have avoided some of my problems.  Of course, this is based on my reading of the film.  If Sully was believably a part of the Na’vi to you, you may not have so many problems.  Of course, I still stand by my assertion that we didn’t need Jake in the first place.

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98 responses to “Avatar: “Totally racist, dude.”

  1. hmmmm….well at least I’m not completely disappointed, because I wasn’t too interested from the start. I’m just amazed at all the hype and now all the good reviews. Last time I checked rotten tomatoes it had close to a 90%. I guess some could be afraid to give it a bad review, or Cameron’s holding a gun to their heads ;)

    • Yeah, I think the hype is supposed to carry audience members and critics alike. I would imagine a lot of people said wonderful things about Titanic when it came out, but in retrospect….

      It just makes you feel “eh” in the same vain of Watchmen. There’s just not a lot to care about and the whole “this is our land” thing turns you against it (if you care enough to think about it).

  2. ‘By the end of the film you’re left wondering why the film needed the Jake Sully character at all. The film could have done just as well by focusing on an actual Na’vi native who comes into contact with crazy humans who have no respect for the environment’

    1. The story is abouit Jakes transformation. (This film could have been calle ‘Transformers’!)

    2. Jake is the audiences entry into the world of the Na’vi.

    ‘Films like District 9 know how to use it responsibly, AKA, know when not to use it. ‘

    District 9 did not have to create Johanesburg..

    ‘Now, if we put a white man in the body of a genetically engineered black man, how well do you think that cracker in black face is going to be received? Start arguing now.’

    received by whom? The Navi…not at all at first…rhey wanted to kill him…

    By th audience? Duh…Thats the point…he’s is OUR entry into the Na’vi world (script writing 101).

    My only problem is Jake COULD have been austalian…that the humans seemed to be all american! That 5 light years is a long way to go mining! even for unobtanium!

    • I point out that the Na’vi do rough him up a bit, but still let him into their world.

      My major problem, as stated in the review, is that Jake Sully says that “the Sky People think they can take what they want…this is OUR land!” Jake Sully is NOT a Na’vi. He is a “Sky Person” who naively led the military straight into their home. Sully making statements about “OUR land” is why I ask about needing Jake Sully in the first place. If you want to make a film that’s going to make such statements about the environment, having a character making rousing speeches about HIS land, why not use a real Na’vi character?

      And of course, I connect this with casting decisions in Hollywood. I’m making wider ideological statements about the film. I don’t appreciate snarky responses [“(script writing 101)”] especially when I’ve already discussed a supposed blind spot:

      “Well, we need someone (an avatar) for the audience to connect with. A normal guy will work better than these tall blue people.”

      • Correct article.
        I just saw the film.
        Hollywood always needs to throw in a bit of white supremacy, even in a movie which is supposed to show the indegenous peoples as the good. The natives needed a white man to save the day for them. He even conquered that ultimate dragon Taruk (or however you spell it). Only 5 black men had conquered that beast in the entire history of that people. The white guy walks in and after 3 months he takes in on and owns it.
        Remember Last Samurai? Another white guy who tries desperately to save the Samurai people. The Samurai battle to preserve needed a white man to join their side according to Hollywood.
        I also saw district 9. That was also an irritating film and i was pleased to learn the Nigerian govt did not take kindly to the way some nigerians were portrayed in the movie and decided to ban it. Maybe Ban was unnecessary, but they expressed their dislike and i say yes.
        They need to add the white superiority to it in order to get sales and ratings from their target audience. Target being the white middleclass people of USA, Europe etc. Hollywood does not make movies primarily for audience of other ethnicities in other parts of the world.

      • I will say this about District 9 though: it doesn’t follow the same story arcs as the other “whites going native.” In the other films, Last Samurai, Dances with Wolves, the whole film starts with a character’s prejudice, or at least existing within a culture that bears prejudice. Then, the white guy befriends the “other” and discovers that, “Oh, he’s not that bad,” and by the end of the film showing how bad the protagonist’s own white culture is.

        District 9 doesn’t do that. Sure, he becomes a native. But it doesn’t fall into stupid sentimentality and moves in a better direction that these other films. When Wikus first goes out into the field he’s patronizing, sneaky, and is practically gleeful when he watches the “prawn” eggs go up in smoke. Then he gets sick and gradually transforms into one of these strange “others.”

        But he never falls in love with it and he never embraces it. However, this is an important distinction, Wikus realizes that no matter how he feels about the “prawns” that does not excuse his behavior (cowardice, betrayal, etc). The humans as a whole are all portrayed badly, it doesn’t matter if you’re Nigerian or South African, which stresses this point, as one side isn’t revealed to be an honorable at the expense of sentimentalizing the “other.”

      • Lol it’s true this movie is a the 500 pound gorilla in the room for real.Damn your facts are scary. I take back my co-sign of Moldova. I got gassed. I would hate for anyone to get causht out there thinking its something sweet on my say-so. Truth is dropping your guard as a person color ANYWHERE is a fools game.
        That is really messed up about Moscow.
        Remington sorry I went off topic. This is about avatar after all.
        Did it really cost 500 million to make. Also in terms of actual attendence it barely breaks the top 100 list. Gross numbers are HIGHLY dubious. Especially international numbers as the studio sees little money from that (countries pay a liscensing fee upfront to show the films and see little or none of whatever profits they generate form screenings). Film performance should be tracked like music sales. BY THE UNITS SOLD. This would mean counting the actual tickets sold (not the grosses). Hollywood does not do this because the sad fact of movies’ declining attendance would be blatantly revealed.

      • apologies on my part too.

        i was JUST wondering about the gross issue. considering you gotta pay extra for the glasses plus the general cost of getting a movie ticket these days. where did you get the details about actual attendance?

        my other question is what are they gonna do when people watch the DVD and realize the story is a flaming pile of mess? or will people even notice? *shiver* this movie makes me feel really distant from most of humanity. thank the Gods for this website!

      • I saw avatar on dvd as well ( a clean copy…don’t ask how). It looks very unextraordinary. It is really dependent on big screen resolution and/or 3d immersion to be even close to visually convincing or compelling. I can’t lie…I Its been a few days after seeing it and I kind of don’t remember it much. I can only say It resonates with me abit as an experience that I really did not enjoy that much.
        I got my attendance info from boxofficemojo.com. They track these things very accurately. The grosses are easiest to find in their daily and weeekly charts. Then attendances are noted in the articles that analyze the charts. And yes the cost of 3d glasses and screens did drive the grosses for Avatar up so attendance is a smller part of its “success”.

  3. I still need to see it but I have high hopes. I despise ridiculous CGI but the fact that you say this film borders on animated actually intrigues me. Maybe it will inspire somebody to put out a true, pure CGI flick that pushes the borders of film. I been waiting for an R-rated animated film in this country. I understand they cost insane amounts of money and that usually equates to PG-13 in order to bring in the box office, but come on. Surely this technology has leaked into the mainstream enough that someone will have to balls to pioneer what would essentially be a new genre. You have hundreds of video games being produced yearly that include cinematics of equal impressiveness. All you have to add is some solid writing, voice acting, and direction. But maybe the indie computer-animated film is just a pipe dream.

  4. “Now, if we put a white man in the body of a genetically engineered black man, how well do you think that cracker in black face is going to be received? Start arguing now.”

    I’m laughing soooo hard right now! Very insightful commentary.

  5. Man a pure CGI Gears of War movie with the redonkulous amount of blood and gore as seen in the game would be bitchin. I would like to see it about E-day as well. Leave the game and the movie somewhat separate.

    • If they did it in the style of Lord of the Rings (good mix of CGI and practical) that would be great. Otherwise, I’d rather play the game.

    • lol, Gears of War movie. Please. As if video game movies didn’t suck terribly enough as it is, we need a Gears of War movie?

      Here is the storyline to Gears of War:

      Insectoid aliens attack a human colony in the distopian future, and then the super-buff, veteran human men have to kill the alien invaders.

      And let’s not forget the comical, witty negro character bringing up the rear.

      Ingenious plot right there, definitely needs to be a movie. Did it even need to be a GAME?

  6. Pingback: When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like “Avatar”? « WE GOIN IN

  7. I think that practical effects were used and a very talented compositor brought all the elements together seamlessly. Other then that your article is spot on. Great observation about a mediocre film.

  8. Pingback: “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like ‘Avatar’?” | this aint Narnia, kiddo...

    • Thanks for letting me know where this is popping up (I had to find out by reading io9’s article that I was being cited).

  9. great commentary! the film was disappointing in almost every way possible. racist, ridiculous, preachy, and baggy. the worst part was the waste of decent actors, giovanni ribisi and sigourney weaver seemed like they were acting in a microsoft corporate film or something.it all seemed like a phoned-in favor for a friend.

    and geez, 75% of the Na’Vi’s dialogue consisted of yelps of joy, screams of horror. i hate that whole “noble savage in touch with their emotions” tripe. what an offensive piece of garbage and you’re right the effects were not awesome when they were supposed to be. it was more like an annoying (and distracting!) little hat trick.

  10. Pingback: Avatar « zunguzungu

  11. Giant budget Movies are never gonna be what you pseudo-intellectuals want them to be.
    The Blogger’s comments on racism are just too rudimentary for me. All I have to say is well of course, that was the point.

    Giant budget Movies, are made for the Masses. Go watch an indie, a non-Hollywood film or go to the Theater if you want a intellectual challenge. Avatar is a “Movie”, it’s just entertaining.

    It’s a Matter of a working Formula that equals bank-ability and That’s Hollywood.
    It’s a tried and endlessly redone story that works and Dear blogger you can suck it as far as I’m concerned.

    • First, I don’t want to get into character assassination, so I would like to ask for a moratorium on name calling like “pseudo-intellectuals.” I’d like to stay on point with the article.

      Second:
      “Giant budget Movies, are made for the Masses. Go watch an indie, a non-Hollywood film or go to the Theater if you want a intellectual challenge. Avatar is a “movie”, it’s just entertaining.”

      When James Cameron first got into films, it was through work with Roger Corman, the King of the B’s, the main guy to go to if you wanted to work outside of the Hollywood system. “Terminator” by all accounts is an independent film and it was great. Even the sentimentality in Terminator, The Abyss, and the conclusion to Terminator 2 didn’t make them bad films. These were films made “for the Masses” but in a way that was intellectually engaging to a degree. To throw up my hands as a film fan and say, “Okay, these films are not accountable for their poorly written dialogue, paper thin characters and asinine stories,” is an apathy I do not believe in. I do not believe that a big budget film is inherently devoid of an “intellectual challenge.” By creating and being a part of such conversations, I hope to encourage others to expect more from their films as well. We don’t have to just accept these films if we want them to be better, so I just see myself as educating people about films they may have missed (since they lack the huge marketing budget) and point out where the big budget films can do better.

      Third:
      Because Avatar is a giant budget movie made for the masses, I want to look at it critically, I want to talk about race, I want to talk about displays of power in the film. Because these aren’t just “entertaining,” these are films that come from someone’s worldview and are sold to people around the world. Therefore, if during pre-production the filmmakers did not really think about what their story and plot convey in the sub-text, I want to drag that out. We consume these films as “just entertaining,” without considering the ideologies being subtly re-instated. If we are not made aware of these ideologies in our films, that’s dangerous. Especially as they become the main means of representation for different classes, races, sexes, sexualities, nationalities, etc. A minority of people control how the images of all these groups are represented and we should all be very interested in that.

      And finally, the comment states that these big budget entertaining movies are a:

      “matter of a working Formula that equals bank-ability and That’s Hollywood. It’s a tried and endlessly redone story that works and Dear blogger you can suck it as far as I’m concerned.”

      This is how the comment concludes and by the end it does not tell me what is wrong with my analysis other than I’m a “pseudo-intellectual” who doesn’t know how to just enjoy Hollywood films.

      This leads me to the following question: If you don’t like my analysis on the grounds that it doesn’t fit your own taste, why even bother commenting? The only conclusion I can come up with is that I present problems with a film that you, by the sound of it, enjoyed (or at least enjoy big budget films similar to Avatar) and you do not appreciate me picking it apart.

      Your displeasure may come from being associated with a film you enjoy that others say is bad, which would imply that you too are bad. But my problems with Avatar do not mean that I have any problems with you or your film tastes. I am merely trying to state my observations of the film and my expectations as one film enthusiast among many.

      That, or you are someone who worked on the film or is a part of the industry churning out these films and you don’t want people rocking the boat. I can’t think of any other reason why I got lobbed the “Dear blogger you can suck it” grenade.

      • Wow you just tore Mimz a new one! I was thinking a lot of the same concepts as you but you put them so well. I’ve never seen your site before but now i’ll be a reader! Excellent review and rebuttal!

  12. Why does a genetically engineered Navi body turn out with thin lips and caucasian hair, when ALL other members of the species have thick lips and more frizzy hair?

    • Because they are white…not African descendant like the Na’vi actors. Each avatar is created to look like them, which I thought was cool.

    • There are certainly a lot of deaitls like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impact of just a moment s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

  13. Why does the name of their God sound suspiciously similar to a very common arabic word?????

    • Ey’wa”, the deity of the Na’vi people, is a mixed-up pronunciation of “Yahweh”, the God of the Hebrews. Both names are based on the sound of breathing; the idea being that God is the breath of life.

      Source: imdb

  14. An interesting article, cheers for this!!

    I won’t go into the “white guy” problem…

    I just want to say that I totally agree with you about the perfect Pandora world and its unbelievable scenes, and that I was just disappointed to see all the perfect fantasy-like shiny surroundings and the vegetation and the fauna… I would’ve loved to see something more realistic, something truly alien…

    The 3D was spectacular but not revolutionary either.

  15. Wow, Giant chip on your shoulder bud. I guess Denzel, Samuel L., Don cheadle, and Terrence Howard all should be told how they cant be leading men in Hollywood. “Cracker” is absolutley a racist term, but you are the cure not the problem, right. I guess being a racist is only something white men can do as well. You should take movies at face value, they are make beleive. As far as racial politics you have shown no ability to be objective at all. Whats worse you were the one using racial slurs, not Jake sully, or Camerron.

    • When I mentioned Will Smith as the only black guy allowed to lead films, I was speaking in terms of Hollywood’s casting decisions which DO overall only allow white males and Will Smith to be star vehicles for a major, big budget film. I really like Cheadle (saw him first in Boogie Nights and it’s good to see so many actors from that film break out) and have no problems with black actors; in fact after reading the article I was baffled when I tried to think of any well known films, critically or financially, that allow a black man to lead instead of just being a sidekick. So any accusation of racism (in this case towards blacks) tries to undermine what’s evident in my post’s material: that non-whites don’t get enough screen time because producers believe only whites can guide us through other cultures.

      Further, I used the term “cracker” as a white person trying to highlight how the film might look to non-whites. This gets into the whole debate over who gets to use what racial term (“blacks can say nigger, but whites can’t” debate). In regard to this debate, I personally don’t have a problem saying “cracker.” Judging by your reaction, however, I will consider how future uses of the term may only distract readers from my message due to their own feelings on this debate.

      • PS
        For all future folks leaving comments, if any personal attacks are made in your post I will not approve it. Originally I did not like the idea of editing out comments that might not jive with my argument.

        However, there’s a difference between two people arguing over the material and just being a jerk. So I’m not going to approve comments that include any personal attacks, but if you have a dissenting opinion, I will gladly approve that.

        So, I’ve approved this round, but I’m not going to do so anymore. Please just focus on talking about the film and/or my argument.

  16. I left that movie wondering what was more racist; the combination of stereotypes or the message it speaks, again, that they were useless without help from the white man

    Also, an article I cited from io9 (#8) is apparently commenting here, with such tidbits as..

    “[…] […]”

  17. Remington,

    Your essay/review gives me much food for thought. Thanks for sharing your interesting thoughts.

    For my part, I found the CGI (and its 3D implementation) to be completely jaw-dropping. Especially because of the contrast with other CG-heavy films, for instance the one you mentioned, Wolverine. I mean, comparing the CGI in Avatar to Wolverine is almost absurd, and I think the obvious contrast makes the accomplishment of Avatar that much better, in my mind. You also mentioned the SW prequels, and I especially agree with you about how Cameron has far surpassed the cartoony-CG battle scenes of Episode 1.

    I actually find myself, thinking about other CGI movies as a point of reference, even more impressed with what they were able to do 6-8 years ago in the second and third Matrix films. No, they don’t look as good as Avatar, but with a 6-8 year time gap, and compared to many of the CGI-heavy films from then and indeed until now, I think the folks who worked on the Matrix sequels pulled off an astonishing feat.

    But back to Avatar.

    My take on Jake’s ability to be accepted as one of “The People” is a touch more forgiving than yours. If only because the plot actually attempted to explain it (Ewah’s signs showing his accepted status, his ability to learn the language and integrate into their culture, etc.). It may not be a great explanation, but at least we got one! It’s the stuff they didn’t bother to explain that really bugged me about the plot. For instance, why does a man’s twin have the perfect ability to magically interface with a genetically engineered/cloned Na’vi body? I get that they have some sort of perfect biological symmetry, but that doesn’t tell me shit about how his human brain’s thoughts and functions are being somehow beamed into the head of his “avatar” (and done so regardless of distance, interference, time-lag, etc.) Speaking of which: the title of the film is just plain stupid, if you ask me.

    Not only did I not feel convinced of the human/avatar connection, I found it hilariously silly that we’re to accept (without almost any explanation at all) how humans have achieved such bio-tech/bio-engineering prowess, yet when it comes to military technology we’re still using normal bullets, rockets, and for bombs, skids full of TNT. What. The. Fuck?

    My disbelief was also not suspended as regards Jake’s ability to live two different lives and not suffer complete physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.

    Plot wise, I agree that it’s more than a bit frustrating to have to buy into the whole “I was complicit as a tool in your complete betrayal and potential destruction, but I’m sorry now so let’s work together to survive.” It just strikes me a cheap story-telling.

    Speaking of cheap, let me congratulate and thank you on not joining the “it’s just like Dances With Wolves” bandwagon. Talk about cheap, bullshit movie criticism. You mention the similarities once, but don’t descend into reductionism and imagined plagiarism. Kudos.

    Anyhow, I actually liked the movie more than I expected to. I find it disappointing that a few flubbed plot points, or even some proposed racial idiocy, detract from the more obvious and well-intentioned points of the story. If Cameron had subtracted a certain percentage of Na’vi ritualistic sentimentalism and screaming/grunting, and thereby added a touch more preaching about the American Imperialism find-what-you-want and then label-the-owners-as-evil mentality (not to mention the “rape nature due to short-sighted reliance on finite resources” bit), I would’ve been appreciative.

    Furthermore, as it turns out, I’m quite a big fan of secularized “religion” in science fiction. I think the story and characters would’ve been more compelling had they gone a bit farther in that direction and relied less on, as one commenter has already mentioned, the “noble savage” myth.

    Plus, having the Na’vi people presented as a bit less savage/primitive would’ve made their victory in the end a good bit more believable. I was convinced, before the help arrived, that their bid to fight the humans was hopelessly lost. It’s hard, even though I was completely blown-away by the spectacle and visual grandiosity of the battle scenes, to believe that folks with bows-and-arrows could really turn away a military occupation with any finality. Plus, as another commenter mentioned, there’s the whole bullshit story element of flying 5 light years through space simply because stock-holding interests stands to profit off a mining operation. Oh, and that the trigger-happy industrial/military thugs have held back long enough (years and years) for the scientists to develop fully functional bioengineered magically brain-connected Na’vi avatars, with Jake luckily arriving just in time to participate in and fight the suddenly less patient industrial/military thugs. Cheap story-telling!

    Anyway. I guess my take is, in summation, that I found the visuals to be (yes) mind-blowing (if that makes me a Kool-aid sipper, so be it), while the 3-hour-long story itself left me a few steps short of fulfillment.

    = Derek =

  18. The Avatar, although visually stunning, was disappointing for the reasons mentioned in the post among other reasons. One thing that struck me is the line by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) that went something like this, “…this is not some pagan voodoo mumbo jumbo, but there’s something really happening here…”, when attempting to validate the traditions and beliefs of the Na’vi to the military/corporate complex.

    That line communicates that Cameron, while characterizing the fictitious Na’vi as “noble savages”, further promotes the “savage” myth on the real, existing indigenous peoples of the world who practice their traditional belief systems. That line would have no place in a movie that was actually trying to deliver a clear message backed by true understanding, acceptance, and respect for native peoples. Unfortunately, the Avatar is not that film. It is however, simply another dumbed-down film for the masses.

  19. Ok, so I am freshly home from a screening and I must say. I went in skeptical but emerged pleasantly surprised.

    First the CGI is…truly amazing. The world Cameron created is stunning. In the daytime anyways. I had a harder time buying the night bits with everything glowy and redonkulous (I fully expected a contingent of Grunties to emerge with plasma nades and pistols looking to off Master Chief). I guess that’s the biggest problem, is those areas feel really cartoony. But who’s not to say such an ecosystem could really exist. Otherwise, the level of detail was mind blowing. Technology has certainly come a Very long way where such minutiae as eye lashes and blemishes on skin are common and easy to spot. Plus the sheer density of life and foliage created in the jungle stunned me. I reiterate my early statement that a fully CGI movie (a la Final Fantasy or Up) would be a great way to go for a GoW movie. I think this is an area of animation that needs to be broken into–notably very adult animate movies where directors aren’t afraid of some blood and gore.

    I also think this is a direction we’re headed. Live action is still a good thing and will remain so, but how long until CGI animated movies become a very common thing? Well, they already kinda are. I think they just get a kind of bad rap because most are oriented towards a younger audience. Let Pixar plumb the depths of hell and see what emerges. I’d be there opening night.

    The 3d effect was interesting. I feel it was probably over hyped, to say the least, but it’s definitely something new. It’s subtle (granted, I haven’t seen any other recent ‘3D’ movie). Most interesting is when something passes between the object the camera is focused on and the audience. I feel this will eventually become a common staple in movies…where the 3D is part of the movie and not so much a gimmick where certain parts have to be crafted to take advantage of it.

    As for the racial aspects and whatnot. I feel by the time Sully makes his “this is our land!” speech he is no longer a sky person. They should have showed more of his transformation (besides the atrophying of his legs and his general malaise with being human). As the story progresses, it’s obvious that he’s transforming. At some point his human side is no longer who he is…it’s his avatar into the world of the sky people. Sort of akin to Bill’s speech in Kill Bill–how Bruce Wayne is Superman’s alter ego (unlike other superheroes). His human body is the avatar he goes into to interact with the sky people and his Na’vi body becomes who he is. This is something else than the standard “coming-to-be-one-with-the-natives”. He actually did become one.

    I think this raises an interesting point about our modern technology. Notably things like Second Life and World of Warcraft. Aren’t the characters created and played in these games avatars? At what point in playing (if people become this obsessed, which they certainly do) does the real world stop being your real world? In a few years when we’re literally jacking into games, we will certainly see people stop being “human” and be whatever character they’re playing.

    Another interesting thought is what Weaver’s character touches on. There are all these connections throughout Pandora. So many connections, more than the human brain….does this make the world one giant sentient creature? Perhaps their deity is real…it is the world they live on. At first the ending with all the critters coming to the rescue bugged me. However, upon considering this knowledge of interactions it could almost be said they’re akin to a body’s immune system repelling an invading bacterium (humans, we’re such contagious little things).

    I guess my biggest beefs are as follows:
    1) Creature/character design. I hate it when aliens are so human. Even in District 9 it bugged me when the Prawns expressed human emotions (and emoted with their faces). Do the Na’vi really kiss? I mean, that’s so human. And smile. Come now. I realize there needs to be some level of humanity to make the audience empathize with the aliens, but there comes a point where, with some creativity, you could create new gestures/interactions/etc to convey emotions that aren’t so human but would be recognizable. Example: joining of their tendril thingies. It would be fairly obvious and recognizable that such a joining would be a very intimate thing between Na’vi.

    Along with this, while the creatures of Pandora are an interesting assortment of slightly terran but still alien things, the plants needed some work. I mean all this effort to create an alien world and there are ferns? Really?

    2) Siguorny Weaver needs to be taught how to use a pipettor. Also, why are they using light microscopes with all this other advanced technology. The ship design was cool but the tech was inconsistent. Some seems so advanced but others more…today.

    3) I can’t tell if I love or hate the fact that the mechs carry giant bowie knives. Also, the guns were definitely a rip off of Gears of War. A bit more mechanization and they’d have chainsaws on the front.

    4) I wish, as stated earlier, they’d done more to flesh out Sully’s transition from human to Na’vi. Especially in his human form.

    5) Again, more alien for the Na’vi. Is it really necessary to copy so much from Terran tribes and whatnot? Isn’t it possible to create novel, and indeed, alien ways of doing things instead of their very…Native American…mannerisms.

    All in all, I didn’t go in with especially high hopes. I find myself pleasently surprised. If the hype machine hadn’t turned this into the second coming of christ, I’m sure it would have been all the better. This also raises and interesting thought in my head: if we found out that Christ was indeed coming again, would he live up to the media hype that would follow? Doubtful.

    Anyways, I thought it was a good, if predictable movie. The technological advances for the CGI are damned impressive and I would love to see a movie created with the same attention to detail without the live acting. Totally CGI, totally adult. Some better actors would have helped certainly. Some better writing too. If the Colonel hadn’t been portrayed as a one note killing machine, the movie experience would have been significantly better. We almost get a feeling that the corporate lackey in charge is more than a cardboard cutout, but it’s never fleshed out. A better balance between time with the Na’vi and the humans would have allowed these details to be fleshed out.

    Bleh, that was long.

    • Holy shit I can’t believe I’m so dumb. I went to bed after writing this and it suddenly hit me: Did I say Bruce Wayne is Superman’s alter ego? Crap. My Nerd Cred just took a major hit. I meant Clark Kent (retard).

      Though I will say this: A comic series where Bruce Wayne has split personalities and one of them is Superman and he doesn’t even realize it would be pretty awesome. Batman vs Superman…or himself.

  20. Pingback: Links of Great Interest 12/25/09 | The Hathor Legacy

  21. I was thinking the same thing about the vodoo comment. “The Na’vi’s philosophy isnt bullshit like west african vodun” Lmao. that was so unnecessary. cleverly slipped in.

    Good Article. I’m glad some people understand racial themes in mass media and aren’t afraid to speak on them in the our age of the “race card”/post-racial society/”racism is dead” society.

  22. Avatar movie challenges every one to look at what is wright and what is wrong. We can all learn from each other, and we can teach each other our good values. And about the Aliens, they do exist, here on Earth. We are the Aliens. We think Aliens are different, but we are different from each other, in every aspect of human life, and this will always be the case. Role playing will change, but our differences will always be there . What we can do is learn not to alienate each other and do no harm. I think We can all live with that.

    Remington, please read below, I will argue the main points in your article. I copied and pasted segments from your articles to argue against them. ENJOY

    1-Now, if we put a white man in the body of a genetically engineered black man, how well do you think that cracker in black face is going to be received?
    Argument: The decision of the army commander is to get intelligence about Na’vi people to get to the valuable resources in their land. The “white man in the body of a genetically engineered black man” was accepted by the Na’vi as an informant to facilitate the mission. Jake sully was easily accepted by the Na’vi because he looked like one of them.

    2-But it’s not his land! And this is where the racial power dynamics of today get played out in this mega-blockbuster in an unsettling manner.
    Argument: Taking the land or the resources in the land by military power is different than living in the land peacefully among the “indigenous” people. Jake Sully was accepted by the Na’vi and he decided to live with them, and the land became “his” land.

    3-(this is also the ironic twist to all of Cameron’s films: they all warn of abusing technology, yet abuse it to create the world we see on screen).
    Argument: when you use technology to create a film, and you make enough money to pay those people who worked on the film, you are not abusing technology. And yes, I know that Cameron is a very rich man.

    4-By the end of the film you’re left wondering why the film needed the Jake Sully character at all. The film could have done just as well by focusing on an actual Na’vi native who comes into contact with crazy humans who have no respect for the environment.
    Argument: At the end of the movie, Jake Sully used hand bombs to destroy the commender’s massive airplane. The Na’vi people don’t have bombs and they could not destroy the commander massive airplane without the use of the Army’s ammunition as their largest “bird” is two small to do that. And the movie is not only addressing environmental issues, and I hope that you knew that.

    5-Cameron may be king of the world–but it’s a world that, though beautiful, doesn’t really exist. And underneath it all is an ugly racial dynamic that reminds us Americans why we’re seen as the bad guys on and off the screen.
    Argument: Everything has a purpose, and every movie has a message. Avatar is not anti-American. Avatar is against wars, and most wars in the history of the human kind are unjustified. This is our nature, and it is not pretty. And don’t mix Racism with Greed. Greed is color blind, so is War.

  23. I just ended up watching it and I know a lot of people are going to say you look for racism in everything but think about the fact that it is so noticable you cant help it. Its not even the fact that Jake Sully is a white guy who became one with the Navi and learning their culture. No what the problem is, is every movie starring a white guy who brings himself into another culture suddenly becomes the almighty who acheives everything not even the natives themselves can do. So not only does he become a great warrior, he hooks up with the village “princess” [wow didnt see that coming] who just happened to be engaged but breaks her vows for the so called outsider [ also didnt see that coming]. There is the fact that you mean to tell me not one Navi could tame that giant dragon bird]whatever it is] but he could? after only being there three months? Absolute BS!! and only he could save the villagers because they werent strong enough to do it [ ok that i understand]. I just wish more movies like these wouldnt rely on such cheap stereotypes over and over again, I think people are sick of seeing them. As for the evil bad corporation thats to be expected , even though the whole concept to go that far doesnt make sense but meh its the story. All in all its a great story but it couldve used just a tad bit more originality. and btw how the hell did they figure out that swirling around infront of a great tree could do a body transfer?? i mean you’d think theyve done it a million times. Anyway people have fun enjoy life and god bless.

    • I am very sorry for the people who see racism in the movie, because they are like sailor who are looking at the vast ocean, but they only see the waves.

      • That’s an interesting way of putting it, and I actually couldn’t agree more. Because yes, the ocean is vast, but it’s made up of the waves. You can’t separate the ocean from the waves. And if you have an reason to object to “waves”, then you have to object to the whole ocean, because you can’t have an ocean without waves.

        If the elements that make up this movie are racist, then I am going to call the movie racist.

        And fine, you can feel sorry for me. In many ways, it is frustrating not to be able to just switch off and enjoy a pretty blockbuster film. But I’d rather be aware of what I’m seeing than mindlessly absorb damaging, privileged attitudes without understanding why they are so objectionable.

      • Anne Ominus

        Reading what you said makes me wonder if you’ve ever been subject to racism yourself.

      • The Film Smith

        Please explain what you mean by providing your thoughts for both a yes and no answer.

  24. All these allegations of racism and yet no one notices that
    the primitives are the good guys and the humans are the
    bad guys who no one wants to be like.

    • That’s a good point. Still although the nhumans are portrayed as the villains they are also portrayed as the ultimate heroes. They are also portayed as superior to the navi who are essentially helpless before theire might. The humans are the gods and the devils who shape the fate of all beings including the navi who are too inferior to determine their own fate.
      In all fairness Avatar was for some reasons I mentioned elsewhere on here a bit racist towards white people. White folks (re:humans) were essentially demonized unless they were actively trying to lose their “whiteness” by rocking navi bodies.

  25. I have watched Avatar thrice; once for the story on 2-D; once with friends on 3-D to compare with 2-D and to further explore the story, and just yesterday on IMAX for the technical aspects (the uncanny valley and light/shadow effects) of the film. As I’ve watched it, I felt that as an experience in itself, it was well beyond compelling, especially if one does not try to over-intellectualize the film’s story and events.

    However, some reflection does bring out some glaring issues.

    With regards to the racial characterizations in the film, which I feel to be the main focus of your critique, I do agree that it was almost surely a conscious creative decision. I am quite appalled that in a society where interstellar travel exists that even humans were not as racially diverse as they would be in an essentially homogeneous society, unless RDA was explicit in hiring only Americans for their corporate functions, especially in the military field. Even then, by 2100, they would have had the equivalent of a racially diverse America present, considering demographics alone. That mere fact alone, now that I think about it, of choosing a predominantly white military team is to serve as a contrast to the Na’vi. It would have been a much more relevant and correct highlighting of the anti-exploitation and oppression theme instead of the racist undertones that it exuded had the military been portrayed as a diverse group of people, and it was more than just Chacon that protested against the use of excessive force. The fact that it was a portrayal of a corporate monolith that gave a blank check to military preemption without any murmurs from a “mercenary” group that presumably fought for freedom and equality for their country doing an act, that had they done it against other humans, would be a genocide, not to mention other war crimes, just had me nodding my head in disbelief.

    As for another blog’s mention of it being *cough cough* “liberal suicide fantasy”, which I feel the need to tackle since it’s been mentioned by some commentaries that I’ve already read, one could argue that it comes across as a hyperbolic case of over-analysis and lack of attentiveness to the plot-line. Granted, the movie itself did have certain lines that would sound shrill and exaggerated, but in comparative terms, and maybe even for dramatic effect, they were justified.

    Overall, I’d rate the movie on its own, without any analysis and back-story knowledge, a B+, and for those who did get some back-story research and know that it was structured as a trilogy, an A to A-. I would rate it as A+ for technical proficiency, and A+ in managing to weave so many possible facets of interpretation and viewpoints into a single story but B in characterization and story flow.

    • After talking to some of my buddies, I’d agree with most of your comments, that the overall story is okay/not terrible and the technical achievements are evident, just not everything Cameron hyped it up to be.

      For me, once I left the theater I was feeling these things (“Okay, that wasn’t too bad”), but unfortunately, the subtext issues were the doom cloud hanging over my experience. I probably should have posted a small review and then wrote my essay on the deeper issues with the film or just rounded out the conclusion better.

      Thanks for the comments.

  26. Pingback: NEW SERIES: Spoilerz, Episode I: Avatar, Or What Jake Thinks « Citizen Obie

  27. This is an interesting analize.

  28. The writer of this article is a freak marketing his ugly message. His message is “get things for free because it feels good”. Freak writers also feel good when they explain things from their twisted point of view. They use the media and their knowledge of logic fallacies to appeal to the masses and strike a home run in the the mind of the Illiterates. It is like a snow ball that gets bigger with time. When you understand that the media is a money monopoly that serves it’s beneficiaries (the internet is still free) you will get my point.

  29. “By the end of the film you’re left wondering why the film needed the Jake Sully character at all. The film could have done just as well by focusing on an actual Na’vi native who comes into contact with crazy humans who have no respect for the environment.”

    Remington, you are absolutely correct. In fact, this was the premise for Ursula K. LeGuin’s novel, “The Word for World is Forest”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Word_for_World_Is_Forest

    There are a number of striking similarities between the LeGuin novel and Avatar. Both stories deal with the attempted Terran colonization of a forest world and the successful resistance of that world’s indigenous inhabitants, despite an enormous Terran technological advantage (LeGuin wrote her novel in 1972, shortly after the Vietnam War). Avatar’s Col. Quaritch is basically the same character as LeGuin’s Capt. Davidson.

    Unlike Avatar, however, LeGuin felt no need to pander to her audience, and wrote her protaganist as an indigenous Athshean who leads his people’s struggle.

    I noticed other tropes in Avatar that could have been borrowed elsewhere from LeGuin. “Rocannon’s World” featured a combat between a helicopter and warrior-ridden flying beast. She also wrote a short story that featured a sentient Gaia-type world, but I can’t remember the name of it; I think it was in her short-story collection, “The Wind’s Twelve Quarters”.

    • M., the Le Guin story you are thinking of is Vaster than Empires and More Slow, about a mixed-group expedition in a Hainish universe finding a sentient planet and their very various reactions to it.

  30. Mmm.. I don’t agree completely with your review. I’ve seen the movie twice now and plan on seeing it at least one more time in theaters. The first time, I emerged from the theater feeling completely dazzled and lightheaded. The second time, it was still mindblowing, but I started noticing things that really bothered me. So I went home and wrote a review of it on my own blog.

    My main problem with the film was that the plot and characters were big honking lumps of predictability. They were things that we’ve already seen a million times before. The dialogue was flat; there were obvious characterizations and half-assed story lines. If the execution was half as good as it turned out being, the movie would have sucked serious ass.

    BUT, the execution was amazing. All of the visuals were absolutely gorgeous, and I was completely swept into the world of Pandora as I watched. Both times. And for me, the execution of the plot and characters was powerful enough to not only override the movie’s faults, but to nearly make me forget about the obvious flaws. Ordinarily, I would have been completely skeptical of a plot like like “Avatar,” but as it is, I was blown away.

    As for your accusations of racism, I don’t think it was a conscious decision on their part. I don’t think they said, “We have to have a white guy as the protagonist, and most of the humans have to be white too.” I think it was more of an unconscious decision. Not necessarily a coincidence, like “Oh, look, our protagonist is a white guy, whaddaya know,” but instead more like it was an unconscious decision – but still a decision.

    If the Jake Sully character didn’t exist and the film instead focused on “an actual Na’vi native who comes into contact with crazy humans,” that would defeat the purpose of there being at least a few humans with consciences. It would turn into a full-on Na’vi vs. Human war, instead of Na’vi (plus some humans that aren’t so bad after all) vs. Human. It would destroy that little shred of hope for humanity that was, I think, one of the main themes of the movie.

    • As a filmmaker, a film studies student, and as a film buff, I can tell you that decisions about the main character are not off the cuff. There is an explicit, direct decision to make it a white male over a black male, white female, etc. (why do you think it has been such a big deal that the main character in the upcoming film Salt was originally for Tom Cruise, but now has been re-written for Angelina Jolie?)

      Even if it were an unconscious decision, that’s my point about Avatar: ideologies slip into the film that may have been unintended, making it all the more dangerous if people are making sub-text statements they have not considered thoroughly. These mega-Hollywood films are distributed around the world and require from filmmakers a responsibility to use that power in an educated manner. Avatar is like seeing a kid play around with an AK-47.

  31. Well look at what SyFy did to Ursula K. Leguin’s Earthsea! Things could be a lot worse.

    However, in terms of Avatar, it seems ready made for a lit-crit style takedown, and in fact, is predictable in the sense of the predictable hackles it is and will raise because of Cameron’s choices.

    I mean, the allegories are beyond obvious, and point to Cameron’s need to hit the audience with the hammer. Now you might think this is a case of dumbing down or condescending, but have you seen audiences these days? Transformers 2, a terrible movie, made oodles of cash. Moreover, no documentary on colonialism is ever going to have the impact that Avatar is having.

    Now compare with Lord of the Rings, which is racist in the opposite way, where the orcs (many played by Maori extras) are dark skinned and flat nosed, while the “Men of the West” are racially pristine good guys (as per the source material).

    Avatar completely reverses this trope — yes with the noble savage mystique — but alas, the humans and the military industrial complex are the bad guys. Tell me how many movies do this in such a blatant way where even the Na’vi women warriors ululate in battle.

    So I think Avatar may indeed have a beneficial impact in the way the Evo Morales on the world stage is talking about defending the rights of Mother Earth.

  32. Pingback: Avatar : un film biodégradable | Autopsie

  33. Pingback: « Avatar » de James Cameron est-il un film raciste? | Réflexions et analyses d’un étudiant africain expatrié

  34. “The fact that the alien peoples (Na’vi) can’t get their shit together until a white American military man in a blue person avatar rides in to save the day is the principle thing wrong with this uber-spectacle. One can walk away from the film conflicted: it’s a critique of military culture and a valorization of the environment and human connection to ecology, but wait, while their forests burn and missiles fly, the Na’vi gather round a tree to sing? No damnit! That’s not how AMERICANS do it! And then the speeches about “our land” and our struggle and all that, led by of course the white American guy whose macho might and military mind save the day for these tree-loving aboriginals.”
    http://artthreat.net/2010/01/dances-with-avatar/

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  36. Am I the only one to to notice this>

    Na – NAM
    Vi – VIET

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  38. I don’t think the film was racist at all.

    It reflects a reality in the way cultures clash, merge, and evolve — Especially when the two cultures are very different (and even more so when technologically unequal.) The reality is that like in chemical reactions, a catalyst is required to produce change: Jake is required because he can synthesize the knowledge of the humans with that of the Na’vi in a way that no Na’vi ever could. He is aware of the human technology’s weaknesses (he knows to break the cameras on the advancing bulldozers and how to operate and where to throw the grenades) and he is also enough of an outsider of the Na’vi culture to disregard and challenge established cultural knowledge (that big flying reptile thing, if it’s been tamed before, why can’t he? Another Na’vi would be more weary of his own mortality, responsibilities to family, and probably too ingrained with the momentous meaning of doing such an act to try it: After all doing so was meant to “join the tribes in time of great crisis” so why normally attempt that when there was no crisis (before humans arrived.) Achieving such a feat without necessity would cheapen the achievements of the fabled heros who managed it before.

    The script tries to get that across to the viewer by Jake’s monologue explaining that the beast, being the baddest thing in the sky, would not expect an attack from above. Though not very believable as an explanation of why only Jake Sully could do it, it’s there to indicate, story-wise, that Jake’s actions were based on a different way of thinking than of the Na’vi. Additionally, perhaps only such an outsider, in this case with far greater scientific and technological knowledge, would understand that their deity is in fact a global awareness, a Gaia entity, made up of all the connections Sigourney Weaver’s character so clumsily explains. If anything, the script apparently shouldn’t have been so subtle about this. I thought that was blatantly obvious but I’ve found most people completely missed that. In any case, the Na’vi would have no basis for viewing their belief system from such a “scientific” stand point, and thus would not have had the logical conclusion to go ask the “deity” for help, as the princess said: “Eywa does not take sides”. That’s why Sigourney Weaver’s character had to die, and in such a way as to pass her knowledge into the planetary memory/consciousness, so that it could finally understand the seriousness of the threat against it, and take action.

    I think we are often biases due to our own base knowledge of our own culture to understand or appreciate what a change a character like Sully would bring into a world like the Na’vi, even as he tries to ingrain himself in theirs. That’s why the Dances with Wolves and Last Samurai (and now Avatar) plot-line is not uncommon: It’s just simply based on historical reality and “the way things work.” On that same sentiment, regarding the Sully-Princess relationship:

    It is also a well documented fact that people are sexually attracted to “outsiders” when those come into their community. Evolutionarily, and I assume that evolution is a principle that also applies in Pandora, to mate with an outsider brings in new, possibly different different genes into the communal gene pool. If you read the reports of the early European explorers of the american and pacific “islands”, it was common and usually expected that the men of the ships would find ready and willing women to have sexual relations with. In many cases these were even sanctioned in not outright promoted by the local culture’s leadership, be it patriarchal or matriarchal, even when those women were already mated to someone else in the tribe. Our take on monogamism and sexuality is rooted in a very un-natural romanticism of the English Victorian era. Much of the rest of the world, and especially more “native” cultures like the ones depicted by the Na’vi have much more complex and shifting sexual practices. So the story line that the Na’vi princess becomes attracted to and mates with the outsider-turned-member-of-the-tribe rings perfectly true.

    As to Sully being “coincidentally” assigned to be taught by the Princess as opposed to anyone else, let’s think: Would they really assign some lowly member of the tribe to teach an outsider the ways of the tribe? I’m sure they expected to gain as much insight from him as he from them — and such a “mission” would always be given to the most able and trusted of the ruling elite “clan” — hence, the princess. The alternative would have been the guy she was suppose to mary, but why would they have a Warrior teach another warrior (Sully) their own warrior ways? Wouldn’t that be like having a member of the Taliban be taught what it is to be an American by one of America’s top Marines in a military base? Wouldn’t we instead have that person go and live and experience the more day-to-day side of America in its main streets and supermarkets and national parks and varied places worship, guided instead by someone with more training in psychology (read: spiritual)?

    And finally, although the short span of three months seems a bit forced and hurried, I do believe that Sully’s mindset, upon coming to an understanding of both what the Na’vi represent (a global self-aware entity) and being accepted as one of their own, shifted to see himself as one of their own. Being a dual citizen, I have said the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance with meaning and emotion, and later stood in another country and felt the pride of being of, if not at least coming from, its culture. There is no reason that Sully wouldn’t have made that switch, even, and I would argue _because_ he felt part of its impending destruction. I have been with many American expatriates who see themselves as Australian, of Kiwis (New Zealand) or Brazilian, saying “We” when speaking of the country they reside in, often decrying US policies. Yet many are still American citizens, and proud of it. Cultural identity is not a black-and-white proposition.

    Now, those points aside, yes, the dialogue was trite. As someone pointed out in the comments, they can travel light years through space but still shoot bullets and behave like Rambo? Would we expect to see a movie about today’s military capability with guys in civil war outfits, weapons, and attitude? Couldn’t they have replaced the kiss with a joining of the tendril thingies as suggested above? That would be more consistent with that cultures unique ability to “join” with other life in their environment. How come ships can’t navigate in the “flux vortex” but the Avatar links, somehow, can? There were certainly a LOT of inconsistencies, anachronisms, and continuity issues that strained my suspension of disbelief. And the CGI was not as revolutionary as touted, though certainly it is a step up, especially in the 3-D space (No gratuitous tip of a gun or tail trying to appear as if inches from our nose.)

    The story, though as I’ve argued being not at all implausible, is still something we’ve heard a dozen times — and offered no new twists, unexpected developments, or revelations (The Matrix at least brought out the mostly novel idea of this reality being fake.) If I’m going to argue for the veracity of the general premise of the movie, I should also point out what wasn’t addressed: Biological implications of a new species with all its bacteria, viruses, etc. in an ecosystem. The fact that if unobtanium was so valuable, that another more armed “retake” of the mining operations would expected. What about the impact of the knowledge on Earth of the sentience of the planet as a whole. All likely fodder for the next two parts of the trilogy story arc, more than likely, but certainly absent from this one.

    • In addition to everything you mention regarding Jake, I’ve noticed that most of the posts I’ve read around the internet criticizing the movie fail to mention the fact that the planet herself chose to protect Jake when Neytiri was thinking about killing him or driving him away. That sign from the Goddess wasn’t random. She realized that Jake had knowledge and skills (in addition to genes, perhaps) that she could incorporate into her ecosystem. Also remember that Jake was the first Sky People “warrior” the Na’vi had ever seen. So, She might have known that a showdown with the humans was inevitable, and that perhaps Jake would be useful when that finally went down.

      This is why Jake was accepted into their community. It just doesn’t seem that strange to me.

      • Well you are right that its not necessarily strange that Jake as an outsider is accepted into the Navi community based on the reasons you gave.
        BUT the reason you (and the film) give is still based on a racist premise. Lets’s face it in this movie despite there being humans of other races shown, human=white. That is the clear metaphor.
        By your explanation”the white man” was chosen by the goddess for his utterly indispensable whiteness or “genes”as you put it to “save the day”.
        The “white man” is once again the “chosen one” His experiences are primary to shaping history into a positive outcome. Everyone else’s experiences are secondary or irrelevant. Why couldn’t the goddess choose a Navi? There wasn’t a single skill or insight that Jake had that any Navi warrior with a brain (“humans are just so crazy and won’t stop unless you raise up on them with everything you got!”…well duh) should have possessed.
        “The movie wasn’t racist for having the white guy being the most awesome useful Navi because it carefully explains why this white man was the most awesome useful Navi !” That’s circular logic. OF COURSE the movie has a great reasons for Jake being “HNIC” (head Navi in charge). But that’s the point. The very premise of him being the HNIC is racist and absurd. All the plot points that are created to support this racist premise are merely rationalizations of this premise…which shouldn’t be rationalized in the first place (because they are racist).
        I want every white person who thinks Sully’s story is supported by anything occuring outside a racist mindset to come to the hood and try being HNIC (head nigga in charge). See what happens.
        There is a good chance you will get crowned as the man. A good chance you will get the girl. But trust me when time comes to represent the skills of representing, surviving in the hood and overcoming the adversity faced by us “natives” you will find there are a dozen niggas who are a better nigga than you. You will not be chosen by the gods. You will be HNIC in name alone.
        It’s like those silly dance movies Step Up and Step Up2 where these white folks come to the hood and are better “street dancers” than the black folks who created and mastered (and taught them) it.
        Uhh…that don’t happen in real life. Rocky don’t happen in real life either. Dances with Wolves NEVER happened and yes while COUNTLESS black folks bowed down to Eminem as the “illest rapper” Eminem will be the first to tell you you he is is not even in the conversation.
        Okay maybe Avatar is not representative of a racist lie that’s been endlessly told by Hollywood. But can we at least acknowledge that it is an absurdist fantasy that is not supported by anything but the NEED of a certain demographic to believe it? Can we at least acknowledge that this fantasy might be offensive to some people for legitimate reasons?
        Therein lies the problem. The whites (and blacks) who embrace this fantasy never ever REMOTELY balance their embracing with an understanding of other peoples points of views.
        I like seeing scantily clad hot chicks even in gratuitous and unnecessary situations. I understand this is sexist and when a “warrior chick” is fighting half naked it is too pander to my (and the filmmakers) sexism. When A lady calls me out on it I have no problem saying “My bad. I’m being on some sexist sh*t”. I will then proceed to continue being turned on by the scantily clad ladies lol. But because I can at least acknowledge and respect the LEGITIMATE concerns of those who are inconvenienced by my fantasy means that I am trying to work on myself. Trying to moderate or even evolve myself. At worst my enjoyment can become benign. At best I might actually evolve. I might actually mature into a guy who’s relative sexual frustrations don’t prompt me to zone out when I see a half naked hot chick (I’m not that mature yet lol). But for now I am mature enough to admit that my fantasy may be the nightmare of a thoughtful well adjusted classy lady.
        Why are the Avatar/Rocky/ Dances With Wolves/Last Samurai/You name the movie proponents so monolithic in their one-sided and total lack of empathy? Its kind of creepy.

  39. Just saw Avatar yesterday.
    Remington sir…
    You are right about EVERYTHING you said.
    From the racial subtexts to the cgi fakery aesthetics that are all the rage now. Also:
    1) It seems a given that audiences are to accept without explanation that the Navi can’t hang with tech advanced armies because that’s what history shows us. But history shows us the exact OPPOSITE. It made no sense that the Navi after having years of experience fighting the humans not only did not co-opt weaponry from the humans fallen in battle, but did not adopt a fighting methodolgy to deal with them effectively. Native americans used rifles and even became the symbol of the weapon (Geronimo’s rifle)
    There should have been a squad of Navi using helicoptor mounted mini-guns as side arms (they’re ten feet tall lol). That would have made sense.
    Look never in history did an indigenous people get lead or need to be lead by an interloper/ex-invader to resist foriegn incursion.
    2) No way Sully’s character who just got in his body should be a better fighter than a Navi warrior. There was even a scene where he beat the Navi war-prince guy in a fair fight (while holding back!). WTF?! Uhh…Guys the Navi clearly are a martial people who spend hundreds of hours training/playing/fighting with each other to hone their fighting prowess. They don’t have like a dozen martial arts? Nonsense. That Navi prince should have taken Sully apart using Navi skills that Jake could not even dream of in his 3 month old body. But alas his superior human commando fighting triumphed easily over the inferior savage.
    3)It took 350 years to drive the native americans into reservations. And this was after the the armies of tvirtually the entire western hemisphere tag teamed on them and plenty of in-fighting and a devastating series of betrayals form adopted peoples (the afro-indian tribes) and eco/biological warfare. In a straight fight they were quite the opposite of helpless and were essentially unbeatable. This applies even moreso to the indigenous african military orders who were utterly dominant on the battlefield and still exist (unfotunately) to this day. Equating successful colonial occupation with military dominance and a strange concept of “powerfulness” is really a bizzarre myth that many whites and blacks cling to like a junkie to a pipe.
    4) That aside it really made no sense that the Navi needed a human to unify organize and motivate them to fight.
    5)Also they would have DEFINITELY asked their god awa or whatever for help the same way Sullly did. It’s the filmmakers lack of understanding and respect of idigenous holistic cultures that allows him to rationalize the Navi as being too passive and submissive to “balance” to ask mother nature to take a side. That’s silly. Ever hear of a rain dance lol? Uhh indigenous people have entire clans devoted to doing just that (asking for divine intervention for everything you can think of). This would be even moreso in a world where the communication with the “divine” is an actual biochemical and physical experience (a mundane feat).
    6) It would have taken a Navi like two days to realize that their forest was full of artillary-proof mammoths that could defeat anything the sky people had. It would have taken another month for the navi to wrangle and train (using their pony tail usb thingy) them into a batallion.
    7)Not for nothing the navi looked so fake I was rooting for the humans to win. Ironically on this level, the “evil humans” represented nature (flesh and blood actors) and the Navi represented technological incursion (cgi fakery and substitution).
    Also for the record. These observations are not the result of me poring over and painstakinly deconstructing the film with great effort. Since I possess reasonable cognitive thinking skills all my observations were made instantaneously in realtime as I saw the film. You only need to “take a film seriously” or “work hard over analyzing” to percieve and comprehend subtext in a film if you are intellectually challenged. Otherwise it happens automatically. I have to admit I found the film crippled by bad intitial conceptual decisions in production and narrative. I think this film could only be entertaining to heads who NEED to believe in certain things even at the expence of authenticity creativity and fun entertainment. Not surprisingly this is a lot of people. I found avatar to be not that fun creative or entertaining.
    Yo Remington…did you say that you are a white guy? Wow you like a brother man! You should come to the hood and rally the black folks to stop being so apathetic. You can shout “This is our Hollywood” lol.
    I’m just playing. But really bro you a down ass dude no matter what your race. It’s inspiring to see you respectfulness diplomacy and intellect on display.
    Be easy

    • Thanks for the props Victor. I was raised in different neighborhoods, went to a mostly black high school, and majored in history during undergrad; so I have a fair bit of experience (personally and intellectually) with different classes, races, ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations, etc. I by no means know WHAT IT’S LIKE to be in these different shoes, but I try to at least be aware of them.

      Have you seen Precious?

      • What’s interesting is that there are those with the same bkground as you yet are the exact opposite in world view. I guess it comes down to the man sometimes. Hey give yourself credit…you got a soul. Ithink it keeps you on point
        I have not seen Precious.
        I got a confession. I have strong and biased reservations towards certain kinds of films. Precious does strike me as a form of passionate and on some levels honest filmmaking. BUT it also is coming from a place I refuse to identify with. I feel that like many works in this particular idiom it has a disingenuiness that comes from a specific pathology that makes me avoid it. The idiom I speak of is the “hood movie”. The pathology that defines this genre is essentially black on black racism and more importantly the celebration of mundanity and even defeat.
        I will say this for James Cameron (as if he is holding his breath for my praise to validate him lol) the man is dreaming. He is fantasizing. He puts in the work time energy and even love needed to rally a crew into realizing a place that can only live in our hearts and minds.
        Hood movies are the exact opposite. What makes them disingenuine for me is the cover up that lies (pun intended) at their core. The character of Pecious is an overwieght sister who is essentially damaged goods from years of sociological abuse and victimization. The film seems to be about her connecting with brothers and sisters to put herself back together again and overcome her environment. Sounds nice but one problem…Precious IS her environment. I lived in ghettos all my life and still do but was and is never a product of it. The environment these hood movies portray is never revealed to be the people who live in primarily ceate and perpetuate it. Its always some “force” that acts on them that is usually vaguely or agressively atributed to white racism against blacks. Long story short these flicks hide the ironic decadence privilige and entitlement that define (lately at least) ghetto life. I’ve known PLENTY of “Preciousess” . They are not victims and often antagonize the hell out of those who have not succumbed to their environment. They are not the underdog either.
        Only the black community would dare make a movie about their “Precious'” before they make a movie about our Lewis Latimers, Garret Morgans Ben Carsons Henry Sampsons etc etc. Hell make someone up who is amazing in ways that transcends their envioronment (not merely survives it) and tell their story.
        I can fully see the why someone would see Precious for its entertainment value and be uplifted by it. Its just to close to home for me and within the context of my experiences too insidious.
        For the record I just broke ranks and spilled some beans that black folks ain’t supposed to talk about to “other” people. Whoops lol

    • Victor,
      I am so with you on all of this. Especially number 7. When the girl Na’vi (what was her name Nyla, Nilu) was cradling the human I started cracking up laughing. That was the fakest thing I’ve ever seen. Utter blue nonsense. The only way they could make the humans despicable was by using criminally poor dialogue to turn them into even bigger cartoons than the ten feet tall cartoons they’d supplied us with. It only succeeded in making me roll my eyes really hard. This movie is a massive and overpriced piece of junk.

      • Wow.
        “This movie is a massive and overpriced piece of junk.”
        I almost feel bad for in some ways encouraging this sentiment. A
        Yet I cannot bring myself to disagree with you.
        I’m not sure what the pathology behind this trend to reduce everything to a mechanical automated formula (which extends even to human performances). The film touts the celebration of nature over technology (as if the two are necessarily enemies) yet every single frame cries “doesn’t this cgi just beat the crap out of real life?!” But it doesn’t. Not even close. Cameron billed this flick as a manifesto on the way of making films. I don’t get why he is competing with himself. I get less why he is intentionally losing.
        You raised a point I missed to. The humans were cartoonish distortions. Ironically they were also dare I say… racist towards whites! I do not believe in providing sympathtic portrayals of essentially wrong villainous characters. But geez make us hate the villains by showing us that their hearts are screwed up and not just that they do horrible things because well…that’s what white folks do when they get a chance to do it! well unless they turn “black” like Sully. It’s wild how racism distorts EVRYONE’S identity no matter who it is directed at. It’s so American to. I was in Moldova (close to Slovenia lol) for a month and damn…my skin color wasn’t an issue. Really it wasn’t.
        I digress.
        I actually thought the performance of the Quatritch character was brilliant. There was an intensity an psychology there that was almost as unexplored as Sully’s. He even seem wierdly strident in his final fight scene. The James Cameron who made T2 and Aliens would have explored this.

      • Please note, Moldova is nowhere near Slovenia.

        Also, not quite sure what you mean by “an issue” but I will say people here do see fit to freely comment on my skin color and hair. Most comments have been well-meaning, but some have not. I do also freeze up when I occasionaly pass by the few skinheads they have in the capital city, but so far I have been “no issue” for them.

  40. My bad my geography sucks. Slovenia and Moldova may not share a border but aren’t they both in Eastern Eastern Europe? I think you can get there just by flying through Romania and Hungary. Not a stones throw but in the same nieghborhood.
    Wow skin heads in Slovenia Yikes. Oh well there goes my fantasy about Eastern europe lol. I’ll stilll co-sign Moldova for now though lol.
    Was Avatar big in Slovenia?

    • While you are right that the country shares borders with Hungary, Slovenia is an Alpine country that shares borders with Austria and Italy so it’s actually Central Europe. Sorta right where “east meets west”.

      Ha ha, definitely don’t fantasize about Eastern Europe, the hate crimes are crazy in some of those countries. Have you heard about how much they have been beating the hell out of African brothers in Moscow? The percentage of folks that have been assaulted out there is something crazy like 75% or something. I wouldn’t go there for love or money. That said, thanks for the tip about Moldova. I might have to check it out.

      As for Avatar being big here, isn’t it big EVERYWHERE?

  41. The biggest complaint about Avatar is the story is completely unoriginal and has been done many, many of times. It was no District 9 which was pure genius the way that was done. JC just has a bunch of money and gives the stupid public eye candy pictures that are visually stimulating.

  42. Pingback: Avatar. « rant rant rant.

  43. “if we put a white man in the body of a genetically engineered {insert other race here} man…”
    This is exactly how I read it, since “native american” came to my mind using the “Avatar Pocahontas” relationship. Of course your choice is the most controversial :)

    “Only white men are privileged enough to have such choices.”
    In the movie it was only his choice because his brother died. Personally if my white man body was wheelchair bound and my genetically engineered new one wasn’t, it would be a damn good incentive to love my “new race” yes? And not to mention hook up with the hottie blue chick? Done deal. BTW I am a Pacific Islander if you were wondering.

  44. smart and witty. You nailed it

  45. I just watched the movie last night and I was impressed by the imagery but it didn’t knock my socks off.

    As for the so-called racial undertones of this movie, it didn’t occur to me while watching that this was a rah rah hooray for white people film. The thing that struck me most during viewing was how sad it was to watch cultural destruction occuring in front of me in a very vivid and immersive way and linking that back to how we (as in humans) have done this to other people before and likely will again.

    In regard to the choice of a white person for Sully’s role, In my opinion I would have enjoyed the movie just as much if there was a black person in the lead role. To me it made no difference and until coming to this site, the issue did not occur to me at all. The reason why Sully was able to assist the Navi was that he was in a unique position of understanding of both species. He understood the technology and capabilities of the humans, their strengths, weaknesses, to be used to the advantage of the Navi. For sure, without his help the Navi would have perished without Sully’s knowledge, regardless of whether he was white or black or Navi.

    Let’s also not forget that although the white race is responsible for the destruction of many cultures, let’s not be naive in thinking that these issues do not happen within people of other races as well. Consider the civil unrest in Africa today, the caste system in India, among others. This is not a race problem, it is a human problem.

    Either way, I saw the movie, enjoyed it for my entertainment. If I am looking to critique a piece of work for deep meaning, it won’t be a hollywood blockbuster film primarily created to make bank. Just take a look around you and deeply question the issues you see everyday in the news or in person for the true issues at hand in today’s society.

  46. I’m dissapointed. It could have been so much more but instead is this comercial love story, starships, cartoons and superhero crap.Personally as cartoons go i’d rather watch futurama, the original series, maybe not all the episodes but most of them.

  47. Thanks alot for Sharing ,,

  48. Pingback: District 9: Not the same white guilt/Not racist against Nigerians « The Filmsmith

  49. Avatar is totally Ferngully:The Last Rainforest without the environmental messages…. almost exactly….

  50. Hey, you have a great blog here! I’m definitely going to bookmark you! Thank you for your info.And this is **DVD avartar** site/blog. It pretty much covers ###DVD Avartar## related stuff.

  51. This is ridiculous, what is the point of filmmaking in the first place? It’s a break from reality. It’s a completely ficticious world and plot, so why must people bring in real world events to point in the direction of racism in a completely made up race, world, and situation? All I’m saying when you go to the movies the last thing on your mind should be the pitfalls in american history, its just stupid. Now if you must bring that to the theater, think how realistic would it have been for the jake sully character to have been an under-priviledged/minority child from the inner city or whatever makes the film more politically correct. He was replacing his brother who was a scientist working for a major corporation, with a PhD. Now first off the odds of a child with those means to achieve a PhD is not very good. Also even if he/she does acheive that what are the odds a major corporation picks him to be an avatar driver? corporate America is still fairly racist and there are still many social injustices, so to try and write a script where that doesnt exist is just going to leave a gaping hole in the plot and seem too cinderella like. Think about it. Wouldn’t say “yeah right” when watching it yourself?

  52. I like this content so much.The determined man finds the way, the other finds an excuse or alibi.

    • I am clunertry I am clunertry studying this movie for English and i am going to agree with the review the first time watching it i thought it was good because of the effects but apart from that its dull. the story is bad, the aliens are romanticized WAY too much and the end well lets just say i think that tech trumps bows&arrows so the end was complete crap as far as i am concerned.interesting to look at the aliens culture and different indigenous cultures around the world. thought i would mention it.

  53. Thanks for the very interesting post. My reading of Avatar hones in on many of the same elements in similar ways. I come to a slightly different conclusion because I think Avatar’s going native trope is central to its agenda, albeit subconsciously. If it didn’t have that agenda, if it only wanted to show the negative effects of colonization and exploitation, then you would be right, the movie wouldn’t need Jake. I may not be disagreeing with your conclusion so much as answering the leading question you pose here.

    • I m impressed, I must say. Really raerly do I encounter a blog that s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.

  54. Pingback: The Filmsmith in 2011 | The Filmsmith

  55. Cameron was truly trying to do a good deed here. The messages that it isn’t right to slaughter people just because you want their land (or something under it) and that we should not treat the green Earth that gives us life as a giant trashcan is what he tried desperately to send.

    But he’s a big-budget Hollywood director. Of course he flubbed it, bollixed it, messed it up, for all the reasons mentioned and more. Pity, for he had such good intentions. He tried but failed.

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