Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New Avatar movie has racist subtext?

Essence.com brought up a topic I thought was interesting, in that the new movie "Avatar" has a racist subtext. I haven't seen the movie yet so I can't comment but to others who have let us know what you think.

From Essence.com:

The premise of the movie is simple and somewhat familiar: a White man goes and lives with the "natives", learns their ways and somehow becomes their leader. If it sounds familiar it may be because the theme has been visited in movies like Kevin Costner's "Dances with Wolves" and last summer's South African sci-fi "District 9" says writer Annalee Newitz on the sci-fi blog I09. Newitz calls the all too familiar plot "a fantasy about race told from the point of view of White people."

In films like 'Avatar' she continues, "Humans are the cause of alien oppression and distress. Then, a White man who was one of the oppressors switches sides at the last minute, assimilating into the alien culture and becoming its savior."

Will Heaven of the Telegraph questions why the Na'vi (the blue skinned "natives") wear African jewelry and dreadlocks and are voiced by Black actors like Zoe Saldana, Laz Alonso and C.C.H. Pounder. "The ethnic Na'vi," he writes, "need the White man to save them because, as a less developed race, they lack the intelligence and fortitude to overcome their adversaries by themselves."
Source

17 comments:

Anthony said...

This is an accurate assessment of which people of color has experienced with the dominate colored White people here and both globally. Whites feel threatened by anything non-white. So in feeling this way they internalize a fear yet reverse this emotion with anger and aggression in the form of domination.

Anonymous said...

This movie is not racist in favor of the white people in it. The natives are not depicted as inferior, but the are depicted as having a respect for the earth not to use it and destroy it. The movie does have racial subtexts, but these subtexts are against white people. White people are depicted as oppressive and evil, and that only few of the whites are capable of having any sense of compassion. The subtext of racism exists in this movie, but the writer of this article has it backwards.

Anthony said...

I'm assuming the movie was viewed by anonymous however although I have not seen the movie, I have gathered enough information about it and this historical theme of whites, be they Spanish, Dutch, English, French or the neighbors down the street, always feeling superior to persons of color. You say that the natives i.e. savages, uncivilized heathens are not depicted as inferior yet words like natives, savage and the like connote the idea of inferiority especially when used by whites since their group instituted the waging of war and oppression against the world's people of color. Avatar is an astounding achievement in every area of movie making but the message it has is very typical of the psyche of white directors; The white hero as God and savior, king, omniscient and ever present to plant in the minds of those possessing color that his and all he does is superior and whatever they do is inferior when it comes to their inherent and like God given human abilities to overcome hardships either self created or inflicted by enemies unknown by their own leadership and strategic planning.

extremophile said...

It amuses me how the same movie can be seen as racist in both directions, but at the same time, unidirectionally, by different viewers.

I had seen both interpretations before, [white] people complaining about the representation of the white man as an en evil agent, environmentally irresponsible, ruthless dominator of a pure and wise, but less warlike people; and [also white] people complaining about how the aliens, representing "natives", are technologically inferior to the white man and how the white man is their savior. I've also seen a funny suggestion that it's just "Pocahontas 3d" with aliens instead of Amerindians.

extremophile said...

Ah, one more thing, an off-topic suggestion/request.

I don't know how this work, because I don't have a blog, but I know it's possible to give a bit more of the text via RSS feeds. Right now if we follow the blog via something like google reader (or at least via google reader, I don't really know if it would be different in other thing, like bloglines, but I guess it would not), all we see is the title of the post, and nothing else.

I think blog authors may have interest in not giving all the text away, to "force" more visiting, but I think a middle ground would be better than nothing in this regard. I think I'm myself less likely to visit the blogs (and share the postings) when all that there is to see in the google reader is the title of the post. It has to be something very, very interesting. There are podcasts (exploarations with Michiu Kaku) which I don't even follow as the RSS feed does not tell anything about the shows' content. With text blogs and titles it's still a bit more, however. But still.

Well, that's all. Thanks.

extremophile said...

Nevermind the previous comment, apparently there are different RSS feeds, one which gives a bit more from the message. That's weird.

This is the "bad" one:

http://racismtoday.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss

And this is the nicer one:

http://racismtoday.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

The "alt=rss" somehow makes the difference.

Amanda said...

I liked the movie but I also thought that the indigenous Na'vi have similarities with Africans. Some like you said is the way they speak, their clothing or lack of, their hair(but not those worm things at the ends) and as far as aliens go they weren't that different,(as in the "Star Wars" kind of different). I also didn't like how most of the humans i.e. white people in the movie would destroy anything to get money and how the military think they can do anything because they have the bigger guns. The thing is that's already happening here on OUR planet, half of our world species will probably be extinct in the next century but it's okay, you know just bleed Earth dry... its cool. As for the "white hero" it was a little cliche but technically he was blue for the most part of the movie and they did not understand the extent of what the "Sky People" would go to achieve their goals. Its similar to trying to kill a Transformer with a few rubber bands and a airsoft bb gun. They needed his help in order to put the humans in their place. You can be the smartest, bravest, and toughest person in your homeland but if you bring people you know nothing about with huge flying machines, guns, and can make a creature that looks just like you with a bit of your DNA, while you have some sort of flying dinosaur, arrows and can connect with your planet(or moon) with your braid then there is a difference between what you can do. They needed as much help as possible.

Mike said...

Thank you extremophile for the feedback about the RSS feed. I used Google FeedBurner to make the feed more friendly for readers and also to show some of the post text. The feed url is now: http://feeds.feedburner.com/RacismToday

Kris said...

Actually, I didn't see the racism in the film upon viewing. I just enjoy the special effects and the beauty of the cinemics. I didn't think much of the plot. My only critic of the film is it play on our culture's messiah complex.

However, upon reading other's comments and the article I can see the racist elements in the film. Whites being depict as evil and blacks as being depict as weaker and of need to be saved.

Anonymous said...

If the hero was black, this post wouldn't be here.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe the movie was attempting to put any race or culture down. Through out history man has destroyed other peoples homelands to obtain resources, money, etc. Human beings are greedy, and only some are above that to have "compassion" like someone before me said. It takes a lot of imagination to create a world like the one in Avatar. Obviously its going to be influenced by what the creators of the movie do know, which would be the natives that live here, in Earth. The movie didn't say that the white man is the savior, the movie made the humans seem evil and greedy, but they also had the few good ones.As i interpreted it, the movie was how us humans enter a new foreign land and destroy whatever is in their path to get to what they want. The protagonist was white, he fell in love with the native girl, and they live happily ever after. I don't find that racist. I mean, if you go and scan something for ANY small reason to call it racist then.. a lot of things will be "racist".

Raster2010 said...

Who cares if essence fantasy comments are true?? Racism is and always will be alive. Weather its blacks racist comments and whinning about white(yes I'm proud to be white) or vice versa. I believe we are all gods children and honestly have love for all people butam tired of hearing all the whinning. People we need to look at ourselves in the mirror. Blacks help Blacks, Jews help Jews Arabs help Arabs and from my perspective nobody helped me but myself. I was born without a father and lived on and off welfare and put myslef through school and in the United States anyone can. So quit blaming everyone else look at yourself. Figure out what and who you want to be and devlope gaols to get there and get to work. End of STORY QUIT FNG CRYING!!!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone think that maybe you all are reading too much into this? I'm quite sure that the director didn't come up with this master plan that the whole movie was going to be about "the white superiority." If you would like to talk about people of color, then aren't you technically talking about whites as well? Or is that not a color? The movie isn't about a white man being better than the natives. It's about a man realizing he was on the wrong side of the fight and seeing who has just morals and who's in it for their own personal gain. This was supposed to be a love story of some kind and the more people argue their opinion the more warped it's going to get. I mean, one of the character's on "the white side" happens to be Latino, just so you know. So what's the big deal? I know, the majority of the cast was white. The director used history of the United States to make a great fictional story and everyone is just blowing it all out of proportion! It's people like this that sit here and keep this crap going that make racism such a big deal. Yes, it still exists. But if you spend all your time looking for flaws (racial subtext or whatever) then eventually you'll find it. Racism is never going to get any better because people won't ever quit looking for their own definition's of racism in every little thing man made.

Anonymous said...

you anthony yourself sound racist, to classify whites as whites in itself is racism. Then you go on to say that anything that isn't white they "internalize the fear then revesre it". dude we are all people, color has nothing to do with it at all, there is such a thing as a black nerd, white nerd and hispanic nerd, get what i'm saying? it's instinct that drives us. if whites fear anything non-white, it isn't becasue they are white or racist but because it's instinct to fear what they do not know, not what they can see. and it is the same way for black people hispanics and everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever seen a black man shoot a bow and arrow? I'm not saying it's impossible....

Anonymous said...

First of all, according to Mr. Cameron, he made the movie as a commentary on Afghanistan, as according to the NY Times ads. Yet, he was also commenting on all Natives who have been oppressed; especially by white cultures. The only reason why it takes a white man in a lot of these movies is because after the oppression, they would have to come in to help, as it was with the National Guard during anti-segregation(1960's) sent in by a white President.

I guess they'll be giving those parts to other minorities, then, or whoever wants them (lol, I'll bet CC ran all the way to the bank:). This racism hysteria is really getting to everyone.

Absolutely there is racism, working both ways. Too bad the Mexican students in Arizona are being forced to accept the dogma and deny their own interests. Too bad they are pretending to finally see what was happening all along at the border with a "round them up!" attitude. Meanwhile, how many good American/Mexican actors get parts so good? Why didn't the other actors speak up during filming, if it is such an issue?

Spike did the right thing. He made them himself!

Although another way at seeing this is, how were the black actors treated behind the scenes? Knowing CC, like a queen!

Martian7

Anonymous said...

Apparently, there was a White actor named Sam Worthington who was voicing over as one of those Na'vis for some parts.