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"Is AVATAR Racist?"
Written by Spling   
Thursday, 14 January 2010 13:41


"Is Avatar racist?" That has become the burning question in the wake of Avatar's release and subsequent box office success. It was the same question that raised its ugly head after the success of Neill Blomkamp's District 9. One predominantly white race domineering, infiltrating or pioneering their way into the midst of an "other". An "other" whose forest, dwellings and general living conditions are reminiscent of a more identifiable human race. The parallels are there... in both cases "alien" beings constitute the collateral damage in a war for resources, expansion or containment.

The spirit of imperialism: explore, command and conquer is nothing new to Hollywood, conflict makes for compelling viewing. Two opposing forces with different objectives are bound to clash when negotiation fails or one faction's immediate needs are not met. It's the story behind every war that's ever been waged and this forms the crux of Avatar.

The complication arises when one member of the dominant faction crosses over. Suddenly, the rules change and it becomes more intimate... more about intrinsic race than resources. It's a fine line... which can be argued from either side. On the one hand, the film acknowledges and appreciates differences. Jake Sully is vulnerable without the help of the Na'vi when he first enters their territory. He slowly grows accustomed to their way of life, adopting their rituals and life force - realising his strength in the otherness and committing himself to Neytiri. Then the opposing view suggests that when yet another white saviour rises to lead, it implies that the otherness is too inferior or ill-equipped to prevail in a situation echoing colonialism. It all depends on your frame of reference.

I don't for one minute believe James Cameron was trying to echo racist sentiment in Avatar. When I watched Avatar, I experienced the exact opposite reaction... believing the subversive message was aimed squarely at Corporate America with a similar sentiment to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. If anything he was focusing on the Na'vi's otherness in an attempt to reflect our fragile environmental condition on Earth. Race, natural resources... the two are interchangeable in Pandora, harnessing the importance of both acceptance and preservation. If you're looking for racism, chances are you'll find it. If Avatar is racist, then here are some more films that should also be flagged down: Star Trek, Star Wars, Transformers, Watchmen, The Dark Knight, Twilight... the list goes on. 

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Last Updated on Friday, 15 January 2010 14:02