Friday, July 9, 2010

The Avatar Review: Part 4 "Race Relations vs. Culture Chaos"

Would one think that nowadays a Hollywood /big budget blockbuster movies should be generalized or at least include typical or common clichéd themes? Even when these same themes become so stereotypical, their borderline brain-draining, to downright insulting?

The reason I open with that question, is to see if the more successful films (in budget and not necessarily in content) follow the typical story-plot genres, particularly in comparison to the film Avatar, its characters, and social themes both obvious and under-toned. Now we have briefly touched on this in my Iconic Impact and Militaristic Message posts, so thought I would bring this up into further detail.

I remember a conversation I recently had with D.A. in regards to not seeing any real visible minorities with the human cast (RDA. both military and scientific depts.). To which after reviewing the film scene per scene, that there were some in both depts., though I don’t believe they had any major roles in the film itself, Two possible exceptions being the cool sarcastic pilot Trudy Chacón (played by Michelle Rodriguez) and to a lesser degree, Dr. Max Patel (played by Dileep Rao ). There are more here and there, but with just minor parts. Overall from what I’ve seen, it’s a somewhat fairly diverse group of men and women working in both the scientific and military parts of the RDA.

Why is this relevant? Well remember that discussion about what part of the military did the Sec-Ops represent? Or even if they were a representation of Americans in the military? From a social POV, it would seem that race (at least with the humans) or gender for that matter in this fictional reality, doesn’t seem to be a factor in abilities, experience or rank. Though strangely enough, corporate profit (and greed in general) does matter a lot. Nice to see in this vision of the future how we’ve progressed in some ways in this future, yet still hold on to some of the not-so-better aspects of society.

But back to the topic. One thing that I have noticed and would bring intro question, if the Sec-Ops of the RDA do not represent any particular country (in fact no country is ever mentioned as a representation of where anyone is from anywhere in the film) then why is the C.O. (played by Stephen Lang ), of this security force, seems he’s from the US? Why not some other country like Spain, France, Australia, Ghana, Israel, etc. Yes it’s highly likely they did that just for the sake of the sake of the North American demographic possibly have an antagonist to identify with better,(older seasoned white and male) but still, just a thought.

Another part of this film that did make me wonder is the indigenous “noble savage” stereotype that was shown in the Na-vi people. Much like the age old stereotypes we’ve seen in films in both the past and present. This is even true to this day with Native and Inuit tribes in North America, or the indigenous people in the rain forests in South America, or even with how most of the known modern world during the colonial times addressed the continent of Africa (took them a while to stop addressing that area of the world as the “dark continent”).We did touch on this earlier (again, see Militaristic Message) and I have to say this is one area of the film I was hoping they would do slightly different, and in some ways they did (more on that later). That being said, I think the role that was characterized to the Na’vi seems pretty clichéd overall as the typical noble savage. And what’s worse by comparison to that to the attacking Sec-Ops, making them not only the stereotype of the colonial attacking invaders, but in its own way, the civilized yet corrupted white man by comparison. Add to this scenario with the ‘great white hope hero (Jake Sully)’ sweeping in to help the noble savages and turn the events of their oppression just in the nick of time...just doesn’t get any more Hollywood than that no?

Again by Hollywood standards this is nothing new, look at some of the old movies with Cowboys and Indians film motif, or for that matter, look at some of our history. The Christian Crusades towards the Middle East, the colonialism of America (and Canada) towards the Native Indians, either driven off their homes or reduced to reservations. Another example would be the slave trade of the various countries in Africa from Europe then America. Oh and let’s not forget about issues with the native Aboriginals’ in Australia that still exist there even to this day. I could go on with this, but you get my drift.

In case you were wondering, Cameron did address this same issue, he (Cameron) “rejected claims that the film is racist, asserting that Avatar is about respecting others' differences.” At the same time though he did acknowledge where the ideology of the noble savage concept found in Avatar is plausible. Cameron still insists: "When indigenous populations who are at a bow and arrow level are met with technological superior forces, [if] somebody doesn't help them, they lose. So we are not talking about a racial group within an existing population fighting for their rights." Hmm… Well if that is true, then why is it that every key speaking native Na’vi character in the movie (Avatar characters not included) were played by visible minority (African-American and Native American) actors like and not white ones? Doesn't that seem a little suspect? BTW, that's C. C. H. Pounder and Laz Alonso in that last picture and Zoe Saldana in the middle and right one with Sam Worthington in case you were wondering..

Well in conclusion I don’t feel that Avatar was purposely trying to be a racist or even stereotypical least not intentionally. I believe that Cameron was simply following that same old age old method of storytelling, Hollywood style, which alas does seem to stick to same formulated script of protagonist (great white hope) within a climate of clashing cultures (in this case the noble savage vs. the colonial invaders) the and societies, while being drawn towards the culture he had previously been pitted against. It’s just sad that a movie this so advanced in CGI and 3-D technology is still sticks to these dated formulas of plot. Then again perhaps I’m being too nitpicky.

Thoughts on this?


  1. M. Wanderer, you make an interesting observation, that the key speaking Na'vi characters are all played by visible minorities - certainly seems to confirm that the Na'vi are typed after minorities.

    Casting is a deliberate process - this didn't happen by accident.

  2. Yep it certianly seems so...and iroinicly its not the only film this year to be accused of the same thing....Prince of Persia, and the Last Airbender both have been accused of this as well. Guess some old Hollywood sterotypes never die....meh..


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