Did You Like Avatar? Did You Think It Was Racist?

Marisa Demarco
3 min read
Did You Like Avatar? Did You Think it Was Racist?
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I went mostly because my mom’s never seen a 3D movie. (That blew my mind, but it’s probably not so uncommon.)

I didn’t even know the aliens were going to be blue. I’m not sure how I managed to avoid the hype. I do not yet live in an earthship powered by homemade windmills.

The writing was decent—for Hollywood, anyway. (There’s one terrible line that goes “Sometimes your whole life boils down to one crazy move” said with that raspy, intense, man inflection everyone uses.) I liked the sound of the lead female character’s voice. It’s always good to see Sigourney Weaver on a spaceship.

We left the theater thinking it was pretty good. Moms was way into it. I’m always pleasantly surprised when a major blockbuster carries a message I can get behind. In this case, it’s pro-environment and anti-colonialism—I thought. Plus, the movie makes the pope angry with its brand of "God is in everything" religiosity.

Then I find
this blog that suggests Avatar is simply liberal guilt made flesh.

Avatar is a fantasy in which the history of colonization is rewritten, but it a fantasy specifically for white people living with a heavy dose of liberal guilt. And it is one that, ultimately, marginalizes indigenous peoples and affirms white supremacy.

If it were a fantasy for, say, the American Indian population in the U.S., the story might go a little differently. In that fantasy there would be no Sully character. It’s that simple.

Sully, in the movie, is a disabled marine who saves the indigenous population of an alien planet humans are mining for "unobtainium."

I’m going to speculate that, if this were a fantasy written for a colonized population, the hero would come from their own ranks and, at the end of the movie, they would continue life on their land, with their culture intact, under Na’vi leadership, without a human in sight.

But that would be a movie that alienated the colonizer. And since history is written, and rewritten, by the victor, Avatar is what we get.

Other’s have called it flat-out
racist. Now that you mention it, the indigenous population is childish and bestial, and the outfits are generically "tribal."

And some have objected to the
portrayal of disability:

So, Jake has to save the world and in order to do it he simply cannot be disabled.

I’m there. I see you, social criticism. In recalling the movie, I know what the the above writers are talking about.

But at the same time, what’s the alternative? More movies about cars and tits? How about talking Mexican Chihuahuas?

Perhaps I’m just settling. Hollywood trades in clichés and stereotypes, misogyny and racism. “Hey, at least it’s not as overt as usual” is not the strongest argument. But maybe
Avatar says something to average Americans, present day’s ultimate, unknowing colonists. Maybe?

Did you see it? Did you like it?
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