Ezili Danto

Ezili Danto
August 01
Ezili Dantò is an award winning playwright, a performance poet, author and human rights attorney. She was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and raised in the USA. She holds a BA from Boston College, a JD from the University of Connecticut School of law. She is a human rights lawyer, cultural and political activist and the founder and president of the Ezili’s Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN). She runs the Haitian Perspectives on-line journal and the Ezili Dantò Newsletter. Ezili’s HLLN is the recognized leading and most trustworthy international voice in Haiti advocacy, human rights work, Haiti news and Haiti news analysis. HLLN’s work is central to those concerned with the welfare of the people of Haiti, Haiti capacity building, sovereignty, institutionalization of the rule of law, and justice and peace without occupation or militarization. Ezili Dantò is also an educator who specializes in teaching about the light and beauty of Haitian culture; the Symbolic and Archetypal Nature of Haitian Vodun; the illegality and immorality of forcing neoliberal policies on Haiti and the developing world... Since the UN-imported cholera outbreak on October 2010, Ezili' HLLN has insisted that environmental clean-up, clean water and sanitation are the only permanent solution to stop the UN cholera spread. Zili Dlo is a humanitarian project that provides free clean water. For more go to the Ezili Danto/HLLN websites at http://www.ezilidanto.com/ and http://www.ezilidanto.com/zili

JANUARY 4, 2010 5:23AM

The Avatar Movie from a Black perspective

Rate: 10 Flag

Looking at the Avatar movie from the perspective of the "other world"


Picture: USAToday.com
"Once upon a time, trees were sacred things in Haitian/African culture, looked upon as living energies that provided strength to the people. Thus, cutting down trees was relatively a taboo. But these core Africanist values were scorned and desecrated by the influences of Western colonialism and Christian missionaries on traditional Vodun. These core values were uprooted during the anti-Vodun Rejete campaigns (1940-41) as a means for the Catholic Church to get rid of Vodun as its rival religion and philosophy in Haiti and as a way for the US to clear peasant Haitians off lands they wanted to acquire for their agricultural initiatives in Haiti in the 1940s during the post-U.S.-occupation presidency of Elie Lescot (1941-46).

The Catholic Churches' brutal anti-superstition campaigns in the 1940s, which made it alright to destroy trees that holds up not only the land but a culture, adds to deforestation in Haiti. For, once these core values were broken down and substituted with foreign ideals (senility?) - foreign psychology irrelevant to Haitian survival, things in Haiti for the vast majority, as Chinua Achebe, would put it: began to "fall apart..." (Ezili's HLLN on the Counter-Colonial Narrative on Deforestation, See also - HLLN on the causes of Haiti deforestation and poverty and Avatar parallels: Warrior Mother, Vodun and the Sky People)


In order for consumerism, corporate greed and imperialism to work there must be a narrative. A narrative that claims to be about the common good, about science, development, advancement, education.

In that way, although it is just a regular sci-fi movie with the same ol' plots and the same white hero narrative, I take the time here to analyze the Avatar movie because if James Cameron was looking to tell a story from the point of view of people of color, he fell short. The racist subtext effaced that desire.

I went and saw the Avatar movie looking to find a redeeming deeper meaning in it as so many on this Ezili/HLLN list had such divergent opinions.

First, let me say, what I am about to write is not an attack on anyone. It's what I think, from my point of references, after seeing the movie.

I thank everyone who expressed an opinion on the movie. Those of us who are concerned with human rights, environmental degradation, corporate greed will find that the Avatar movie is a parable and metaphor for how Western culture, corporate greed, consumerism, white privilege and imperialism is destroying the earth through wars for oil, occupations for taking "the other world's" resources and minerals, through mining, clear-cutting, taking down the environment without regards to the human being and the ecology that's destroyed. So, if you are a moviegoer, this is not a bad choice and I recommend the movie for that. I also recommend the movie as a study of the white savior complex. It's very instructional in that way.

I've done Haiti work all my life and have run into the "assimilated" white savior who feels so assimilated and "Haitian" he can insist on his cultural empathy as credential for LEADING the indigenous Haitian to liberty!

Ezili's HLLN has always maintained that the best function of friends of Haiti is not to strum dependency but load our gun and also to go to Washington and push their own to change their policies towards Haiti. No one can give another his/her liberty. We Haitians, we Blacks, we Africans must take what's ours, own our own liberty, as all human beings must. Otherwise it's charity, degrading and meaningless.

The movie is also worthy as a study because one can see the analogy to Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan and every other place where the US/Euros have gone to invade, conquer and plunder in the name, of course, of bringing democracy or humanitarian aid or bringing civilization and God!

In an interview, James Cameron reportedly said he was writing from the indigenous point of view. If I took him seriously, and let him look through my eye, this is what he would see:

A real life example of what happened to the fictional Na'vi people in the movie is happening to Haiti right now. The US military took down president Aristide, deported him to Central Africa, and took over Haiti with hired thugs and death squads, then used the UN and the NGO squads to deflect charges of terror, racism and imperialism. Meanwhile the UN is protecting not Haitian rights and sovereignty but the right of the NGOs, corporate greed, sweatshops, trans-national corporations' right to privatization of Haiti's assets - bling (gold, iridium, copper, oil, diamonds, marble)- and the mining and oil companies to do as they please in Haiti. How greed and imperialism destroys the environment...The Avatar movie is a good analogy, a good parallel for this. In it, we see the mad preppy corporate guy, head of the mining operation who employs a small army of former marines for security and directs them to attack the Na'vi people because his company wants the bling -a mineral called unobtainium - that's underneath the soil in Pandora where the Na'vi people live.

In the Avatar movie, the fictional cultural expert played by Sigourney Weaver is the expert who is wiring the humans’ brains into the bodies of Na'vi avatars to try to win the indigenous people’s trust; building schools in the Na'vi people's world and trying to "educate them," all, on behalf of the mad preppy corporate guy so to befriend them, manipulate them and convince them that the more civilized thing to do is to leave their ancestral lands where the life-force of their mother Goddess and Tree of Souls (ancestors) live and go elsewhere. Manipulating for corporations’ profit. If the anthropologist team doesn't succeed with their psychological brainwashing then the mad preppy will just get his military forces to crush the Navi’s with tanks and bombs. Sounds familiar?

Think: false foreign aid to Haiti and Africa, false Euro/US benevolence, false charity to get a foothold and plunder indigenous people's lands and labor regardless of the human or environmental consequences.

Some years ago, in the essay entitled, Ezili's HLLN Counter-Colonial Narrative on Deforestation, I wrote:

“Once Haiti's natural zones for agriculture were confiscated by big agribusinesses and pushed off their ancestral lands, disenfranchised peasants had no choice but to go into the harsher lands in the mountains or wherever they could, to try to grow some food to feed their families, while a small group of the world's rich - such as the procession of US lumber companies in the 19th century and then, in the 20th century the procession of US lumber, sugar and fruit companies paid large sums to corrupt government officials to cut down pine, mahogany, cedar, oak and other trees for access to the Haitian forests and peasant lands in order to pillage Haiti's resources, under the guise of "development," "job creation" or "anti-superstition."

Yes, the Avatar movie is a good analogy to colonialism, and the role of the missionaries, development folks and USAID experts of modern day and may be seen in that light.

But as entertainment, that's a matter of taste. And for me, except for the very beginning when the spectacular scenery and 3-D experience was so riveting, the analogy is much too life-like to the situation of Haitians vis-à-vis the US/Euros for the entertainment value to mean much.

Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington is the white hero who enters the Navi's land, learns, in three months, all their secrets, becomes a super-Na'vi and is able to return and save them from the attack of his crazy nation's war mongers.

It's relevant to note that the main Na’vi characters are voiced by four Black actors: Zoë Saldaña who plays the warrior princess Neytiri; CCH Pounder who plays Mo'at, the Na'vi shaman (spiritual leader) and Neytiri's mother; Laz Alonso who plays Tsu'Tey, the young warrior prince, Neytiri's betrothed and heir to the chieftainship of the Omaticayas, Neytiri’s clan; and Peter Mensah who plays Akwey, leader of a plains clan of Na'vi; as well as Wes Studi, a Cherokee, who plays Eytukan, the father of Neytiri and the supreme leader of the Omaticaya clan of Pandora. The evil humans are white.

The movie is a fantasy from the point of view of white people. At the end the white man leads, just as he would lead as a colonizer, but this time he leads the natives from the inside. The hero is always a hero in any world and he’s always white. That’s why Danny Glover found it impossible to do a movie about the Haitian revolution with Jean Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint Louvertures as the heroes.

Frankly, I found the Avatar movie patronizing and no, Jake was no more than a white outsider who comes in and does his Tarzan thing. The racial subtext of the movie was extremely blatant.

This was my first 3-D experience and that was dazzling and I agree the scenery is spectacular...at the beginning.

The 3-D IMAX is stunning viewing and combined with the lush green scenery, the message that we need to protect our environment, wild life, respect other people's cultures and way of life, and control the profit-driven military-industrial complex makes Avatar worth the time. But it gets so, so typically racist, violent, violent, violent - literally and psychologically - and despicably so.

When the Omaticaya clan’s Tree of Voices and the Ancestors fell, that genocide resonated. It reminded me of how the Catholics in Haiti, destroyed the mapou trees in Haiti because in Haitian Vodun each village compound/Lakou, each family had a tree with the spirit and life of their ancestors. But in the 1940s rejete massacre in Haiti, the US sponsored the burning down of the most sacred of trees and the psychological devastation still hasn't left the Haitian psyche to this day. So much so that trees became, for many, just wood for charcoal burning! I cringed when that Navi tree went down. The Will Heaven and Annalee Newitz reviews have it correct, this is no more than a white savoir movie where the "assimilated white" becomes the messiah for the "savages."

Here's a few other parts that grated my nerves to no end:

In the movie, the white man is the ONLY one who can pray to the Na'vi’s mother goddess (Eywa) and she HEARS him, not her own people 's prayers and grief but HIM. The Jake character prays to Eywa to intercede on behalf of the Na'vi in the coming battle and when the battle seems lost, suddenly the creatures of the forest start to help attack the expendable corporate soldiers fighting for bling - (Gold and sugar in Haiti and the Americas during the African Holocaust and oil, gold and iridium right now under UN proxy occupation for the US). We hear Neytiri yelling – “Eywa heard you Jake, Eywa heard you!”

The white man mates with Neytiri, the most beautiful, most powerfulAvatar Haitiwarrior princess in the realm but he expects her intended, Tsu'Tey, the young warrior prince, the king-to-be to meekly accept the fait accompli and fly with him because now he's a super-Na'vi after having been the ONLY one to tame and ride the Toruk, an immensely powerful red flying beast that only five Na'vi have ever tamed in their history.

The Toruk is recognized by the Na’vi people as the most ferocious beast in their realm. When Jake, the white hero character, swoops down from above astride the red Toruk, he becomes not just a mythical hero, he becomes Eywa –the mother Goddesses’ - chosen one, the white messiah, and now he wants the young warrior king of the Na'vi people, Tsu'Tey whose character is voiced by the Black actor, Laz Alonso, and whose princess, voiced by the Black actress, Zoë Saldaña, he's mated with to meekly ACCEPT, submit to him as leader of the Na'vi battle AND to TRANSLATE FOR HIM as he addresses the new King’s people and revs them up for war against the humans! The parallel emasculation of the Black man here cannot be more obvious.

Dr. Grace Augustine played by Sigourney Weaver, says at one point in defending the Na’vi tree "This isn't some pagan Vodun, this is their home and destruction of the Hometree will affect the biological connection to nature's lifeforce of all Na’vi organisms." Something like that.

This is the same anthropologist who, later on, in the movie would be rushed to the Tree of Souls and Mo'at, the Na’vi high priestess, for healing through the making of a sacred connection to nature's lifeforce to save her. The whole chanting ritual and raising up of sacred energies pretty much looked like Vodun. (In Haiti, Vodun means lifting up "sacred energies." See also Vodun and the Divine Mother - Ezili/Aset/Isis.)

If James Cameron was indeed doing what he said he wanted to do and writing from the indigenous point of view, if I took him seriously, then I would not have to see how Grace, the white woman's life was made to be so important that in the middle to their grieving of all that they had lost from the shock and awe attack upon their village, that HER HEALING was the priority. She's so important to Jake, the whole village that's just lost its beloved king and perhaps thousands upon thousands of their people, take time to value THIS LIFE above all else and sit in unison to chants for her wellbeing! But alas, Dr. Grace dies. But wait, all is not lost. Her life is so unique and valuable, that her lifeforce gets to be DESERVING enough to join into the collective Navi's Goddess (Eywa) vibration.

This is such an obvious white fantasy in a long, long line of the noble white savior films. After the Sigourney Weaver character's Hollywood demonization of Haiti's sacred way, her demeaning "Pagan Vodun" comment, it would have been poetic justice if Cameron truly wanted to speak from "the others" point of view, if the good doctor's spirit had NOT gone directly into the blissful Navi Eywa collective soul but spent some time in some Christian purgatory or some such place!. For that privilege too reminded me of the foreign Vodun converts who come into Haitian culture and claim our ancestors, priesthood and to be Vodun spirit masters in just one generation of submission.

If I were to take James Cameron's sci-fi movie seriously I'd say it was Richard Pryor who once remarked, Do you have any dreams? They’ll want them too.

Ezili Dantò of HLLN

See also: Avatar parallels: Warrior Mother, Vodun and the Sky People

Avatar Haiti, part two interview with Ezili Dantò of HLLN

Forwarded by Ezili's Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network ("HLLN")

Vodun and the Divine Mother - Ezili/Aset/Isis

Avatar Haiti, part two interview with Ezili Danto of HLLN

Ezili's HLLN on the Counter-Colonial Narrative on Deforestation

Ezili's Counter-Colonial Narrative on Vodun and Vodun Links and Bio of Ezili Dantò

Why the UN is in Haiti as military proxy for the US/Euros colonial enterprise, right now:

Unobtanium in Haiti
Scientists say there's more oil in Haiti than in Venezuela

Unobtanium in Haiti
There is a multinational conspiracy to illegally take the mineral resources of the Haitian people: Espaillat Nanita revealed that in Haiti there are huge deposits of gold and iridium

Unobtanium in Haiti
Oil in Haiti - Economic Reasons for the UN/US occupation

Travesty in Haiti – False aid, false orphanages, false charity

Unobtanium in Haiti - Haiti's Riches

Sign our on-line petition demanding France pay Haiti back $22 billion Independence Debt it forced from the formerly enslaved Haitian people

Avatar parallels: The Warrior Mother, Vodun and the Sky People


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Respect Zyskandar Jaimot,

Thanks for the feedback. Your lingo is a bit challenging and I 'm not altogether sure I get it all. But I think you're saying not too expect much from just a movie. As you say a movie is for our entertainment and it can be also for our enlightenment. In terms of entertainment, this one in 3-D IMAX is stunning and combined with the lush green scenery, the message that we need to protect our environment, wild life, respect other people’s cultures and way of life, and control the profit-driven military-industrial complex makes Avatar worth the time. And that’s enough if you’re white and comfortably always fill the hero template and can project yourself onto the Jake Sully character. But I’m not white and the means the Avatar movie uses to allow the ecologically balanced Na’vi’s to find redemption and freedom from the evil humans, has a racist subtext and stopped my "good times" at the movies. The sub-texts delivered the same racist narrative that the profit-driven military-industrial complex always puts forward – that of the privilege and superior race that must lead “the natives” for their own good. The white savior hero part, wasn't so enlightening. Not so progressive. Sure, fiction is fiction. It’s a fantasy film. We agree on that point. But every narrative extends a view point. The one you’re responding to, extends this writer’s viewpoint, from her point of references, on Cameron’s fiction and its obvious metaphors, parallels, to real life and their impact. Be well Zyskandar Jaimot.

Ezili Dantò
About half way through your tyrade, i noticed you described me in my most idealistic fantasies of myself. Im part of a generation where the main fear when dealing with people different than myself(white privlidged american) is that they might THINK something we said was racist. I spent alot of time cursing you untill i read that part which described me so well, where you talked about the white person who was so assimilated and so empathetic to the Hatians that he indeed believed that enough credentials to infact BE a Hatian, and to have experienced all of the horrors that come with being so, even if they were only experienced in Empathy. That made me think, alot. And i also noticed what else that particular comment did. It made me question myself. Now when my main reason for being an Athiest is that i cannot( and believe me ive searched) find an answer for why so many humans have to suffer, in so many horrific ways, and i assure you the suffering people i empathize with are not my own, not my friends who pull out their credit cards to purchase another xbox 360 game for 60 dollars simply because theyve got nothing else to buy. No its the people who would use 60 dollars to feed they're starving family for half a year that i feel pain for, that causes me to refuse to believe in a higher power that would allow such atrocities. Now in this day in age where peoples parents cant just pass down a way of believing to theyre young and expect it to stick, this day in the age of information if a genocide is commited half way across the world the young of my country will hear of it be on the internet, the news, and they will make their own judgments. This is why a movie like AVATAR was even created, because the market for young people AWARE of the greed, corruption , and straight up murder (physical or cultural) that has been commited by MY people to the less fortunate around the world is beginning to be despised. We in America have ENOUGH resistance to redeeming ourselves and becoming a righteous and just people again from our own parents, government, peers who believe differently, family, from OURSELVES. But the key, the point, is that we push on anyway. I am a priviledged White rich American, whose anscestors were never raped and pillaged, ive never heard of any of my family members having to be slaves, starving, having our religions and beliefs spat upon and trampled. No we have NEVER had to deal with this, If we just kept our mouths closed we never would either, no matter how evil our leaders are , our homeland is kept safe. Yet still fantasies like this are produced for millions of dollars, where the "Great white hope" as you called him, joins an indigenous people and fights at their sides against his own. Could the fact that he was white have to do with the fact that the majority of Americans are white and when you can imagine yourself or even see yourself as the heroic role in a movie it adds to the entertainment. If the hero was black im sure the white kids would still watch the movie, but seeing a white man makes it easier to relate. The bottom line is that ive scoured the net looking for people who feel like i do, who despise our own anscestors for what theyve done to people less fortunate, who hate the racism thats come out of the white men that are still alive today if you look to the elderly of our communities., just because the movie struck such a cord with me that i wanted to rant and rave about how whitey stinks just a bit, and instead ive read your posting (which is obviously sympathetic to ALL of my views, you obviously despise the white mans actions over time, just as i do) and ive started to question myself. I actually began to question weather i was just another part of the problem for all of the starving, the poor, the less fortunate, the suffering. No, and the source of all of those problems from which i speak, the TEARING apart from each other over race borders and religions simply because they are different, I watched avatar and sympathized with the Na'vi because they were WRONGED, not because they were blue, i hated the humans because they were WRONG, not because they were white. And as far as ive seen the only one on this website concerned over the color of ones skin as far as it relates to the debate of what is actually just on this planet....is you. How dare you make me question my views, if i went to Haiti and saw an opporotunity to save and lead their people to liberty, the color of my own god damned skin would not be a factor in my judgement, like it was in my ancestors, still is in the senority of my people, and thrives on in YOU. Even if you are sympathetic to the same exact beliefs that i have, you still have a "look they made a movie about just another Great white hope" comment up your sleeves for any white man coming past you looking for a bit of redemption. You caused me to think, now let me jolt your brain a bit, When our last president was elected, the votes of white people were around 60% for obama and 50% for Mccain. Now, the votes coming from black people were about 98% for Obama and 2% for Mccain. WHO was voting based on the color of ones skin, and who was voting for the better man(as it should be) Maybe the reason you cringe at the sight of a white man leading the broken and battered indigenous people to liberty and choose to ignore the fact that that particular man turned his back on every thing hes evern known or loved to do the right thing, is that you hold some resentment to white people, and who can blame you. But i do ask you, who will be the last racists left on this planet, the white man, or the people he has wronged for so long.
all good points, but how about analyzing the symbolism of another climactic event... you forget to mention that the white savior character abandons his crippled body at the end in a ceremony to implant his soul in a Navi body.....
ps say hi to your sister for me =)
again, I like your analysis but you seem to misunderstand another scene. sigourney weaver character was attempted to be transplanted into another body also, I believe, ie similar scene, but the queen said "we didnt have enough time, it was too late"
ezili writes me in mail:
"I don't understand you're comment about the symbolism of Jake implanting his crippled body with a Navy soul. I thought his virtual body, his robotic body is what was implanted with a Na'vi soul. And the symbolism of that just boggles the mind. I'm thinking silicon implants, breat augmentations - Soul or soul-less? But we're probably on different pages here."
the point is that ok, the whole thing of white supremacy which you dissect in the movie, which I agree has some appearance, is that you would be "black" "over my dead body". that is literally the case with jake. its easy to make the case that the movie is actually the opposite of racism. the navi are upheld as far ethically superior to white-men in their perspective on the world. jakes implanting himself into the navi body is the final act of commitment. could there be any deeper commitment to his cause? at this point he becomes a navi, there is no longer any Avatar-- he becomes his avatar... its a climactic point of the movie on which a whole essay could be written....
ps did you see that other post by I-forget-who that made it to front cover EP on the avatar... had some other similar analysis of the racial issues.. well written.. will dig it up if you msg me about it..
yes, you seem confused. the final scene has jake transferring his soul from his broken body into the navi body [the one created by the scientists], under the magic tree thing. he discards the broken body. there is no robotic body. the navi body is not robotic, its organic, as I understand it.
did I misunderstand the scene? I havent seen anyone else dissect it....
I want to agree with you and I do not doubt any of the points mentioned, with one exception. Your own experiences let you see what you want to see. A good story teller will often have different levels of meaning, but the individual audience will walk away with different intepretations. Your life experiences have been touched by this movie, but those with different expereinces, will of course see different stories. My own life is filled with helping those with disabilities, so I see a different story. Jake's journey to over come the fact that society needs to "fix his legs" isn't really true. That our corporate mentality gives us $1 billion in research for old people to have sex before cancer or nerve regeneration research. Jake was chosen by Eywa in the begining of the movie, because she sensed his strong heart and that "his cup was empty", not as you say flying in on the big beast. The big beast was his siding with Nature and the natural order, in fact, betraying his own race. He was leaving his life behind, which is not a trait many share these days. He didn't want to be fixed, he wanted to be apart of something bigger. Albert Einstein perceived our technology ahead of our humanity. What would a culture look like if it did put the life of one before all? To see the cripple as whole instead of half? Would christianity look much different if our diety responded in a tangible way? You see race because race is important. Corporate greed, "all costs" science, military rule vs. humanity, etc. I appreciate your view, but the racial viewpoint didn't make it on most viewers lists. .... and I for one am glad to see that finally in our lifetime.

Thank you for posting the comment I sent you via email. I've been trying to respond not only to you here but to Arock, but can't. Not good because I lost each comment and had to re-write it to send it via email message. Don't know what's up with this. Anyway if this one doesn’t post, I'll email it to you again.

The thing is Vzn, I didn’t, as you write: “forget to mention that the white savior character abandons his crippled body at the end in a ceremony to implant his soul in a Navi body.”

I just found the implication of implanting a human mind or soul, if you will, into a synthetic host not something a native culture would do, or wish to do because death is not viewed in the same way in native cultures as it is in Western society. It’s just not that final, as all is recycling energy, sustaining and renewing life. That’s a point that goes totally over Cameron’s head and he writes from a Euro perspective and value base. It’s so critical it deserves an essay by itself. Besides this implanting a soul into a full body prosthesis-so-to-speak was so filled with social-implications I couldn’t even begin to enumerate them. Besides I made the similar point about Grace and thought it too much work to again question why would Eywa, the Na’vi mother Goddess, would find Jake’s life so valuable that she would transfer his soul from a crippled body to the tall, regal, WITH LEGS and able to mate cause he’s now got the INDIGENOUS MAN’S uhmm, intact and non-atrophied appendage! I just chose not to go there.

Geez, folks are already defensive enough about what I did write. Of course I saw the various subliminal messages and sub-texts: See the indigenous men may be tall and physically bigger than Jake, but they sure don’t know how to save their own people or solve their own problems. Isn’t that what we’ve all learned in the history books - that the well-endowed Mandingo “natives,” meekly accepted their subservient role to the bad-ass, warrior colonizers? No non-emasculated Jean Jacques Dessalines or Sitting Bull in this Cameron fantasy. I chose not to mention the various phalanx symbol imageries, for various reasons. I didn’t feel like being bothered saying the obvious. But I will say that Jake swapped a broken body for a seemingly BETTER body in every way – that’s not some racial commitment as you assert. That’s a clear self-serving choice. You seem to forget, Vzn, that Jake spends a lot of time in the movie gathering Intel for the Blackwater Marine Mercenary-type character because he’s promised Jake new legs. And, low in behold, at the end, the white savior gets the indigenous girl, wins in battle and get’s the new legs and a whole new bigger appendage anyway from the indigenous mother Goddess for doing the colonial thing and saving the day! That’s disturbing. It’s a recycling of the white savior stereotype, but this time not as the Columbus hero but as the assimilated outsider who leads the natives in battle against the Columbus types of modern times. But further, it could symbolically be a eunuch becomes whole - spiritually, physically, and morally. The more I think about it, the more it could be a possible view.

Vzn, you wrote that the “Sigourney weaver character was attempt(ing) to be transplanted into another body also, I believe, i.e. similar scene, but the queen said "we didn’t have enough time, it was too late." You say I don’t understand. It’s possible. But I’d just say we just saw things differently.

I wrote that “Grace, the white woman's life was made to be so important that in the middle to their grieving of all that they had lost from the shock and awe attack upon their village, that HER HEALING was the priority. She's so important to Jake, the whole village that's just lost its beloved king and perhaps thousands upon thousands of their people, take time to value THIS LIFE above all else and sit in unison to chants for her wellbeing! But alas, Dr. Grace dies. But wait, all is not lost. Her life is so unique and valuable, that her life-force gets to be DESERVING enough to join into the collective Navi's Goddess (Eywa) vibration.”

That’s what I wrote. And just as I found the Na’vi’s willingness to give new life to Jake through the Na’vi false body – or ROBOTIC-sort of body “genetically engineered by human scientists, injected into the Pandora world and called an avatar that looks and functions like a real Na'vi body, but is controlled remotely by the mind of a human” in spaceship cubicles. I found it questionable the indigenous folks who live in harmony with Nature’s cycles, would have WANTED to do this for Grace, especially in the middle of mourning the genocide committed against them and the murder of their King. It reminded of how a thousand of Blacks or Africans may die, but let one white person die and it’s a federal case and the media is all over it because, in our society white is the “everyman” that is relatable and therefore whose life counts. I won’t give you the various factual parallels for this in our modern society.

Anyway as I wrote to you, Jake’s soul was implanted in a synthetic and laboratory created body. I’m not confused about that. Though you seem to be confused about the many implication of such a thing. You say you think this is the opposite of racism because Jake takes on a “Black” body or an indigenous body. I say it’s Jake’s good luck to go from crippled to legs and a functioning sex organ so he can mate with the Na’vi warrior princess! No wonder he doesn’t want to leave Pandora. It’s not some final act of commitment or expression of solidarity with the Na’vi. It’s what Jake’s wanted from jump street. To have uhmm…, legs---!!!! . Vnz, you may not have read it elsewhere or thought about it, but the symbolism of Jake’s human mind or soul being implanted in a synthetic Na’vi body and that being acceptable to the live-in-harmony-with-nature-Na’vis just plain boggles the mind. Like I said: I'm thinking silicon implants, breast augmentations with a soul. As I said, we we're probably on different pages here. You probably were not thinking of those implications: the scientifically engineered Navi "body" that Jake has is not a body that a human Navi female or any female, for that matter, gave birth to. It was created in Dr. Grace Augustine's LABORATORY and used by the film's human characters to interact with the REAL Na'vi, to feel what they feel, to breathe Pandora’s air that humans can’t survive. At the end of the movie, this synthetic body is given a human soul? So, if I understood the movie correctly, a laboratory entity, grown in some high-tech space Petri dish, without a female egg or male sperm is then used to house a Na'vi soul. Suffices to say: Can an eternal energy be trapped in a technologically engineered “body” that had no living, breathing parents? Who is God here? Grace Augustin who genetically engineered the host shell or “body” controlled remotely by the mind of a human, or the Eywa mother earth Goddess at the Tree of Souls, who permanently transfers Jakes human mind/soul to the synthetic Na’vi replica. Cameron’s messages here are mixed and paradoxical. There are lots of arguments either way, with a good dose of it denying the female's traditional role and giving it to the laboratory scientist.

This has been interesting, thanks Nzn.
Personal, personal,

Thank you for your comment. I respect it. And yes we are shaped by our experiences. I, because I come from a lineage that has dealt with 300 years of Euro enslavement, a Revolution where the African Ancestors where the heroes who first broke the chains of that slavery in the Americas and then the subsequent 200 years of containment in poverty on an Island with nowhere to go, surrounded by the now united Euro-tribes and their client states/colonies and that is ravaged by neocolonialism. And then of course, there's the USA experience of being Black and female in the United States. Can't say that doesn't affect my views and world outlook. But I'm glad to talk this over with someone, as you say, whose "life is filled with helping those with disabilities." I don't have those credentials, Personal personal and I wish I had read you're comment before I sent the piece to Vnz because I purposely didn't comment on the ableism in the Avatar movie because I've no expertise with that storyline, other than empathy for all who are oppressed by social norms. I hope that my comment to Vnz was not, in any way, insensitive to the disabled. I don't wish it to be. I dealt with the issue from the racial perspective and yes, from the female perspective that I know well. And my statements are made from those points of references. Thank you for the feedback Personal, personal. I appreciate that you've brought your perspective up here, for I didn't feel qualified to comment on Avatar from the disabled person's viewpoint. Be well.
Both the movie and your knowledgeable, poignant essay made me focus on things I don't think about every day. If the movie Avatar causes people who are being entertained also think and question, perhaps Cameron has succeeded. As to the depth of that success, I can not know.

(Rated for reality)
Sis-- It is nice to have your perspective on this movie. I like that you named for me that uneasy and disturbed feeling I had watching it. The scenery was great, but the plot was thin and colonial narrative was thick.

It is clearly necessary to analyze and criticize the mainstream narrative/propaganda (meant for our entertainment or served up as "news") that we all are bombarded with every day. The hypocrisy can be numbing, but your sharp and incisive critique is right on time. Your viewpoint is always a fresh and a conscience building lesson in reality. The reality that the privileged and entitled never have to face--but that we "indigenous" know so well.

"In Zanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure dome decree, where Alph the sacred river ran... so twice five miles of fertile ground, with walls and towers were girdled round."
-- Samuel Coleridge

You'd say: so wouldn't a better use for those "fertile grounds" be to grow food to feed the community? And, please don't girdle round the sacred river, it's needed by the worshipers!

I still like Coleridge's poem, but I can now appreciate that Kubla Khan was a thoughtless son-of-a-gun!

You rock, because you voice those questions that no one thinks to ask.
hi ezili... may respond to more of your comments. however this one sticks out:
"You seem to forget, Vzn, that Jake spends a lot of time in the movie gathering Intel for the Blackwater Marine Mercenary-type character because he’s promised Jake new legs. And, low in behold, at the end, the white savior gets the indigenous girl, wins in battle and get’s the new legs and a whole new bigger appendage anyway from the indigenous mother Goddess for doing the colonial thing and saving the day! That’s disturbing. It’s a recycling of the white savior stereotype"
ok, the white savior stereotype lens is an interesting way to view the movie, but I think it breaks down and goes in circles after awhile. jake is a traitor to his own race in many ways. that isnt true at the beginning, but by the end of the race he's a complete traitor. its true he starts out as providing "intelligence" but he didnt intend for it to be used for the destruction of the navi-- he thought he could help avoid war, it seems like.
as for "robotic" .. you can use that word to describe his relationship to his body in the sense of "remote controlled" but robotic typically implies devices, hardware, and that doesnt fit too well. his body is biological. as for the body, the movie does not address the idea of it having a soul when it is created in the laboratory. (or maybe we should call it more scientifically "animating force") maybe its created animating force-less. is the synthetic body an abomination by its mere creation? you seem to feel it has frankenstein overtones, which are strong in many senses, but the movie does not play that angle. when jake gets in the body for the first time, he is overjoyed, and the scene is a little scary [due to jakes lack of cooperation] but mostly joyfull, ecstatic as he runs around like a kid in a candy store. its a celebration of overcoming/transcending his handicap and the confines of his own body.
anyway, your criticism of the movie is kind of weird in the following way. a lot of the reviews are complaining that the movie is *too* reverent of the "unwashed natives" so to speak, that cameron really lays it on thick and beats us over the head with the way they are oppressed by the invading force. ie, the opposite of your own criticism. that the movie was *too* sympathetic to the natives. who disdained all technology entirely and lived in the equivalent of grass huts with no running water or plumbing or electricity, internet, etcetera... that they are unreasonably glorified.... I have some agreement with that pov/criticism....
Vzn and everyone,

I am getting the most amazing and thoughtful comments on this piece of writing. That's nice. I don't normally get much OS feedback, so this is new. I have the same essay on Pacific Free Press and Op-ed news. There's a very interesting comment on the Op-ednews from a charity worker from Haiti. Check it out. But I thought this comment I am pasting here is so well referenced and thorough, OS folks might appreciate it also. It's at the Pacific Free Press issue of this same essay and the commentator writes:

I recently saw “Avatar” (in 3-D), and while I could discuss the rather cookie-cutter plot or the truly amazing special effects, I will confine my comments herein to the issue of race in this film. From what I have read online, many people are asking the question whether “Avatar” propagates racist ideology. Well, from what I saw, “Avatar” bluntly dealt with intermingled historical and present-day forces: Western (= “white”) notions of (1) government, (2) corporate enterprise, and (3) racism. Good – too few films do so. But is overtly addressing racism the same thing as propagating racism? Well, it does not have to be, but it can be, and usually is, without the individual realizing it. Hence all the questioning from viewers of this film. So I went to the evidence: what did I see and not see in “Avatar”? Well, I saw the results of choices presumably made by James Cameron.

Here is some of what I saw:

1. The Na’vi had physical characteristics that are associated with Africans and (for lack of a better term) Native Americans: Na’vi facial structure (particularly jaws and noses) was clearly evocative of Africans or people with a good deal of African ancestry. Such features were clearly intentional, as the avatars for both Grace and Jake clearly exhibited different facial physiognomies, those of their “white” drivers. Additionally, many of the voices of the Na’vi were provided by African and Native American voices: Zoë Saldaña (Neytiri) and Laz Alonso (Tsu’tey) are both African-American, CCH Pounder (Moat) is African-Guyanese, Peter Mensah (Horse-clan leader) is African-English, and Wes Studi (Eytukan) is Cherokee. This array of contributors was clearly the result of a choice.

2. The Na’vi clearly had cultural characteristics that are associated with African and Native American cultures, especially but definitely not limited to: (a) the unity of and respect for all living things; (b) the freedom of the individual to make her/his own choices without suffering the compulsion of the group; (c) the presence of the divine in all aspects of life (modern Western/“white” culture compartmentalizes God). Very interestingly, in the movie, you may recall that it was pointed out to Jake’s avatar that Neytiri and Tsu’tey, who were sister and brother, were to be mated and succeed their mother and father in leading the clan. This act of the marriage of sister and brother is a distinct characteristic of ancient Black Egyptian culture. Pharaohs married their sisters, and together, they ruled. While sister-brother marriages also appear in later Native American cultures, such as the Olmecs of what is now called Mexico, Ivan vanSertima, an African-Guyanese scholar, in his book “They Came Before Columbus” makes a convincing case for the fact that this cultural attribute was brought from Africa by Africans who arrived in the Americas centuries before Columbus did. Again, this is the result of a choice: James Cameron went out of his way to include this piece of information in his script.

3. The Na’vi are depicted as being physically superior to the diminutive “humans”. This is again a parallel to a source of “white” racist mentalities in our real world. Just the mere fact of having a height advantage is extremely powerful in our own human real-world personal interactions. Interestingly, the Na’vi/human height ratio was clearly evocative of the adult/child ratio. Again, another choice by James Cameron: the Na’vi are the adults, and thus it is their task to teach unruly children (the invading “humans”) respect for the world, even if it means a beating. Additionally, much like the invading Europeans in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, although to a much greater degree, the invading “humans” on Pandora were unable to cope with the environment of Pandora – an environment in which the Na’vi had no trouble thriving.

4. The Na’vi were referred repeatedly referred to as “savages” and even once (by Colonel Quaritch) as “roaches”, terms that are often used by “white” people today when describing Africans. This represented yet another choice in drawing as clear a parallel between the “humans” in this picture and “white” people here in reality.

5. The “human” occupation was depicted as a Western/“white” enterprise. But importantly, Mr. Cameron also chose to depict some of the deep complexity of race: he made it clear that “white” enterprise will often employ agents who are themselves not categorized as “white”. You may recall that after Quaritch gave his rousing speech to the troops, the camera focused on a Black marine who verbally expressed his approval of the colonel’s speech.

So Mr. Cameron did indeed go out of his way to address the phenomenon of race in his film. And while his effort was refreshingly blunt relative to so many other films that allegedly address race, I think that perhaps the accusations of racism are largely founded on Mr. Cameron’s failure to go far enough. If this is so, then I agree. So where did “Avatar” fail? Rape, slavery, the disconnection of a people from their history, and the “white” savior.

In "Avatar", there was no rape. Among humans in the real world, one cannot separate rape from the historical and present-day issue of race. Additionally, among real-world “people”, rape allows slavemasters and invaders to force their bloodline into that of the enslaved. The social and psychological price of such acts of evil are to this day immeasurable. But rape assumes a shared reproductive physiognomy. The issue of procreation and the physical means therefore among the Na’vi was never explicitly addressed. If we assume (as the film leads us to) that the Na’vi procreate as humans do (there were no comments from Jake or the scientists to the contrary), well, then can a puny human male rape a Na’vi female without feeling, shall we say, inadequate? Maybe by imagining the Na’vi to be so tall, Mr. Cameron collected the unexpected benefit of avoiding dealing with the issue of rape. Yet even if forced intercourse were not possible, the phenomenon of sexual mutilations, or even the degenerate innuendo with respect to sex across racial lines, could still have been addressed.

There was no depiction of slavery or any attempt at enslavement. In the real world, “white” people wasted no time when they arrived in the Americas: Christopher Columbus and his crew enslaved the Native American people of what is now called the island of Hispaniola in order to mine gold to send back to Spain. Today in the Congo, Africans are enslaved by other Africans to mine the ironically named columbium-tantalum (aka “coltan”); the African slavemasters then sell the coltan to European, American, and Asian global computer manufacturers. (The involvement of coltan mining in one more recent of many African Holocausts – the deaths of over five million Africans in the Congo from 1998-2003 -- is too big to discuss here). But in “Avatar”, the invaders already had technology that allowed them to not have to rely on local manual labor to obtain the prized “unobtainium”. So they apparently did not need slave labor. Thus Mr. Cameron, while directly addressing the issue of the forced movement of peoples away from their homeland for the sake of exploitation of the land by invaders, sidestepped slavery.

There was no depiction of the disconnection of a people from their history. While it is not explicitly stated, I received the impression that the invaders had been on Pandora for less than a generation – and so the same generation of Na’vi that saw the invasion of the humans, also defeated the humans. Thus the generational curse of self-hatred and self-destruction inflicted on the enslaved and the conquered could not take root in the Na’vi (again, the real-world parallel of the issue is too big to discuss herein). But Mr. Cameron’s depiction of a successful first-generation repulsion of an invasion obviated the examination of this issue.

A most important issue that I have read often raised by people is that of the character of Jake being just another “white savior”. Well, I see two aspects to this: (1) a “white” person chooses against “whiteness”, and (2) a “white” man leads the oppressed against his former kinsmen. So firstly: can a “white” person really choose against “whiteness”? Yes. It does not happen often, but I think that it does happen on occasion. Chancellor Williams, in his magnificent work “The Destruction of Black Civilization”, recognized that historically, there have been a few “white” people who accepted and respected Black cultures, and who willingly chose to join Black Africans fleeing the millennia-long historical and present-day southward-creeping “white” expansionist front in Africa. Additionally, Howard Zinn, in his work “A People’s History of the United States” reported of numerous historical incidents in which “white” people abducted by Native American tribes, when given the chance to return to “white” society, refused the opportunity. So while watching “Avatar”, I accepted as theoretically possible that Jake could have chosen against the invading “humans”. Did being a cripple alienate Jake enough from his fellow invading “humans” as to make his choice easier? It certainly could have, but, to his credit, Mr. Cameron addressed this possibility by giving Jake an out, and having Jake turn down the chance to get new legs from Col. Quaritch.

But, to address the second facet of this issue, did Jake, in joining the Na’vi, have to be depicted as a “chosen one”? And upon much reflection, my answer is no. This film would have propagated a far more realistic and righteous message if Jake had realized that the Na’vi must save the Na’vi. Jake is a man, and could certainly have fully expressed his individuality as a man, but he could have done so without taking the leadership role. Jake could simply have chosen to serve as a trusted advisor to Tsu’tey and Neytiri, because he did know the invader better than the Na’vi did. Furthermore, Mr. Cameron had Jake take it upon himself to “deputize” Dr. Max Patel, played by Dileep Rao (an American whose parents are from India; please be aware that racism among the many peoples of what we call India is also a huge discussion for another forum), citing the need for a trusted inside man. Thus it was OK to depict a brown-skinned man choosing to accept his designation as an advisor to a “white” leader but not OK to show a “white” man choosing to serve as an advisor to a Na’vi leader. Mr. Cameron did recognize and deal with this issue, but to an insufficient degree -- Jake clearly learned to respect the Na’vi enough to ask the permission of Tsu’tey to speak to the clan, in the same manner that any Na’vi might ask of their leader; Jake also made clear that after the battle, he would no longer play the leadership role. But this does not prevent Mr. Cameron from falling into the “Tarzan” trap: an outsider learned the language and ways of the people more quickly and to a better degree than any of the people themselves. There will always be gifted individuals due to variation in ability and acquired skills among large groups of different peoples, but this movie is not the product of random, statistically sound sampling, but of deliberate, non-statistical choices made by the writer/director, and we should interpret this film with this idea in mind. While Jake’s decision to join the Na’vi was very moving and very positive, and certainly was the most that could be asked of the character, Mr. Cameron did not have to also depict Jake as a savior. Mr. Cameron might even have chosen to imagine Jake an African-American man.

So, yes, “Avatar” directly addressed the issue of race, and that is good. Should not more films that claim to do so actually do so? But Mr. Cameron failed to go far enough, and I think that that failure is the result of racism. Am I asking for too much? I do not think so – if you have not done so already, may I strongly suggest that you view “Strange Days”, a (then) near-future science-fiction film set in Los Angeles, and released in 1995, which starred Angela Basset, Ralph Fiennes, and Juliette Lewis, and which was co-written by James Cameron, and directed by his then-wife Kathryn Bigelow. If you have not seen or heard of this movie, I am not surprised. Like “Avatar”, “Strange Days” directly addressed race. Like “Titanic”, “Strange Days” was a very powerful love story. Yet unlike “Avatar” and “Titanic”, “Strange Days” addressed race in our world -- in the USA -- and was almost completely ignored by the media and the movie-going public. Why? Perhaps because, a mere three years after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles forced the world to consciously think (at least briefly) about race and our ugly history, “Strange Days” depicted an on-screen revolt against “white” authority in Los Angeles, a revolt catalyzed by Angela Bassett’s character (Lornette Mason) and initiated and led by Black people. Perhaps because the “white” protagonist, Lenny Nero (played by Ralph Fiennes), who, like Jake Sully, had also chosen to stand against his former brothers-in-arms (the Los Angeles Police Department), was not depicted as a savior, but just as a man. If I had to name the five best films of the 1990s, “Strange Days” would be on that list, and “Titanic” would not be. And because of this, I expected more from Mr. Cameron – I expected him to push past his already strong statement on race in “Strange Days”.

Thus “Avatar” either defines the limit of Mr. Cameron’s understanding of race and history, or the limit of his control over a film. I do not know, and probably never will. I can only speculate intelligently. I do not seek to apologize for Mr. Cameron, but while I would think that Mr. Cameron at this point in his career could certainly command enough control of a film to pretty much do as he pleased, perhaps the extraordinarily high production cost forced him to acquiesce to the fears of additional investors. A depiction of rape and slavery would have pushed this film’s rating into the R category, which would have eliminated the chance for children to see this film in theaters, thereby greatly reducing the box-office gate and eliminating lucrative commercial connections aimed at children, such as the “Avatar Meal” at McDonald’s. And perhaps financial backers, at the end of the day, could not stomach the notion of a “white” Jake Sully being in anything but a leadership position, let alone that of an African-American Jake Sully. Nonetheless, as it stands, I think that “Avatar”, while very strongly positive in its treatment of race, propagates a dangerously mixed message: it was racist, not by virtue of when it got the statement right, but racist by virtue of when it got it wrong, and should not have.
"I say it’s Jake’s good luck to go from crippled to legs and a functioning sex organ so he can mate with the Na’vi warrior princess! No wonder he doesn’t want to leave Pandora. It’s not some final act of commitment or expression of solidarity with the Na’vi. It’s what Jake’s wanted from jump street. To have uhmm…, legs---!!!!"
no, I think thats a misreading of the movie totally. initially he was motivated somewhat by curiosity and having no other alternatives on earth. they offered him good money or something to go to pandora. then, the general offers him his legs back if he can provide useful intelligence. but he becomes sympathetic to the scientists who are trying to build a healthy diplomatic relationship with the natives. I dont think its so much a calculated/premeditated decision to want to be with the natives. he only does it in the end after again, having no good alternative as his base decides to go to war with the navi. he didnt intend to betray his base/race from the beginning, he only did so after they became increasingly warlike. also, to have legs in a weird/foreign aboriginal environment vs having no legs on earth.. huh?? he could have gone back to earth and possibly figured out a way to get legs back there. his psychology and motivations change tremendously during the movie. he undergoes a transformation, a transfiguration, a metamorphosis, a transmogrification. =)
ok, heres something I can agree with you on. there are two themes in movies or books, lets try to distinguish them. there is the Chosen One concept. for an example of this, see Matrix. have you seen it? its very similar in many ways to avatar. for White Man Savior, well I dont know what movie or book would typify this, but lets just set it apart. I agree that Avatar has pieces of both of these. but when I saw the movie, I thought Chosen One concept. Chosen One concept is similar to christ saving humanity from itself. its a religious theme. and yeah, I kinda cringed when that part of the movie started up. but jake jumped on the dragon out of desperation. the navi were unwilling to listen to him. they were going to give up, like lambs to the slaughter. the movie has scenes that suggest they would just waste away. he didnt jump on the dragon out of egocentricism, he did it out of desperation and to try to jolt the people. he didnt want the people to worship him, he wanted them to fight back for themselves.
your commenteer writes, "jake could simply have chosen to serve as a trusted advisor to Tsu’tey and Neytiri, because he did know the invader better than the Na’vi did."
false, there were scenes where the Navi rejected him as a traitor/outcast/shunned prior to his flying in on the mother-of-all-dragons despite his trying to work with them. he was forced into the Chosen One role if he wanted to help them save themselves from themselves. it wasnt his 1st choice. it was borne out of desperation.
basically, he had no choice. due to [admittedly well deserved] navi rejection.
Honor and respect Zyskandar Jaimot,

I agree, rape of Africa, Haiti and the colonized is more than physical. As Steven Biko once remarked "The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. " To Biko’s quote I'd also add making normal or putting on a pedestal folks like Rhodes (of Rhodesia perhaps before the Africans changed it to Zimbabwe, for which they've never been forgiven) is also a rape of the dominant societies unsuspecting peoples. Good observation Zyskandar Jaimot!
Good article---thanks for your thoughts.

I do agree with some other postings here, though, that the "white man" was "born again" (as is an old old term) as a Na'vi, not parading as a white male savior. True, that was part of his journey and he was a first very reluctant about this, but his views truly did change, enough that he was willing/wanting to be born again as a Na'vi. Literally, in this movie. Same with Grace. It's something that can be done with fiction that can be profound if it is seen--if we can step out of our own worldview.
The biggest issue in our movies, I think, is sexism---it will win out ever time over racism. Although, the two are connected, when one looks closely it is typical for the male to be "above", woman (regardless of color) "below"---I understand there are hierarchies in this when one compares the way white women have stood over black women, but white women have also fought along with black women for rights. After many black men in this country had the right to vote long before any white woman did.
It was refreshing to see the divine as female in this movie which pointed to all that has been (not talking about New Age or Wiccan) but more ancient than any religions of today. The connectedness, sacrality of nature, animals as brothers and sisters---all that has been lost and in the face of dualistic thinking-- remains lost. Male/Spirit (God) split from Female/Nature (Chaos, Evil).
Still with the female prevalent in this movie (which I applaud) as the metaphor for the Divine. In our culture the female is inadequate metaphor for the divine. She has been obliterated and is handmaid to the the God (of whatever color)

What major characters die in this movie who are female? I am aware of the horror of the many indigenous people (young, old, male, female) who died, but of the "American Token Sky -people cast" who dies? Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez) who has had enough of the military industrial complex, who takes a stand (and as I recall, she was not white)--"I did not sign up for this." If it were not for Trudy, flying the helicopter (under fire and this is when---ah---Dr. Grace Augustine gets hit)---if that helicopter had not lifted off, and before that, if the heroine, Trudy, had not released Grace and Jake to begin with, then the story would have stopped there as far as the story we saw goes. There would be no Jake hero in any form. So why is the heroine, Trudy, not mentioned? She was as much a heroine as Jake--or more so. Dr. Grace Augustine (not many females get to that level in science with any compassion, yet she did) is hit and starts dying. We know how that goes and we know what happens to Trudy---blown up in her own aircraft. While the wisdom of the female divine is present and I was glad for that, the two women (one of color and one, white, but at a high rank for a woman, period) get killed. Yet no one comments on that. The sexism isn't seen. At all.
Also meant to add, in our (it appears) forgotten and lost past, the serpent, the tree, fruit, were seen as sacred symbols of the female divine which is overturned and made evil in Genesis. How many females of any color are clearly aware of this today? Why would Eve NOT listen to the serpent and eat of the TREE? They were some of her sacred symbols that the writers turned on her (and others as a warning) of who was to be in charge, exclusively. And what was now deemed "evil." Even Nature itself falls under that story which is taught to children all across our country, children of all colors who are involved in one of the Western religions. The tree, and groves of trees, and fruit as symbols of the female divine go way way back and have been deemed evil and false.
re the racism theme. I would suggest that the two major villains in the movie are the ones with the quasi racist attitudes. the general, and the corporate executive. however their racism is not really that overt, its more like "anti native" perspective. also, its arguably not irrational either as most racism is. they just want the navi to move to some other place to live while they mine the unobtainium, and dont understand why they wont. and its true, its a big planet and there are plenty of other places to live... on the other hand, it would be difficult for them to relocate, possibly... however they kinda look like they have a nomadic style of living anyway.. that is the style of the american indians for which they have often been compared, and also aboriginal african tribes.... nomadic....
AP just wrote an article on the racism seen by some in avatar, along with a quote by Cameron denying it. however, I admit that its kind of unavoidable to project lots of stuff about racism onto this movie. also, great movies have a way of spurring philosophical inquiry sometimes. there are several books written on matrix philosophy for example.
Re: racism issues: Will Smith could have certainly played the part of Jake Sully easily. Will Smith would still have represented the imperialism that the film depicted, as Cameron intended. Sam Worthington, an Australian, was chosen by Cameron because he wanted a relative unknown---Will Smith is a Hollywood star. Also of interest, at the time, Worthington (who did play the role of Jake Sully) was in reality living out of his car at the time he went in for the audition.
Also, in terms of the "privileged" white idea---Jake Sully was a poor Marine, uneducated, a Marine, paraplegic bound to a wheelchair unable to use his legs at all, disabled because of war, unable to afford new legs which, btw, were available but the Marines wouldn't pay for them ("in this economy" Jake said) and Jake couldn't come close to affording them. Jake was looking for a way to make a living and worked as a security contractor contractor---and all this after his twin brother is just murdered. Jake's social status, lack of education and his disability figures strongly in the theme and that seems to be overlooked because he is white.
In terms of religious elements, it is interesting to reflect on the fact (fact) that the "saviors" or "leaders" in all three Western religious traditions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all men who are not white. So when we talk about the savior or leader issue and tie it in with religion, we need to remember the saviors or leaders in those religions are men of color. They've been co-opted, sure, by many (long ago and now) for conquering others. The female divine (the first way of imagining the divine to begin with) was co-opted long ago---thousands of years ago. I was amazed to hear (in an American made movie) Jake say that where he comes from (Earth) is no longer green; the people have killed their Mother. Never have I heard that in an American movie and I thought it was both educational and well-done. There are other cultures that grow up knowing of the stories, the legends of the First Mother, but not in America, and this was a movie made in America.
Respect Sarah C. Geiger,

Thank you for the comments. In my experience race trumps gender, mostly. For instance, Disney just did its first Black princess cartoon – The Princess and the Frog - and not only does the movie malign an African religion – Vodun – because it’s Vodun’s “black magic” that turns the prince into a frog. Also although ALL the white Disney princesses have had a white hero prince, this time the interracial relationship is used to hit the Black boy over the head because the Disney Black princess’s prince is not a black male. I’ve got nothing against interracial relationships but Black boys need to be heroes also. These messages are important. And this is certainly notable in this first Disney movie with a Black princess, as is the demeaning of Vodun – an African religion. Thus, in this case race trumps gender, as well as the Black male takes a back seat, again, as in Avatar. The hierarchy, some say, goes from white male, white female, black male, black female. Some say it's reverse and the Black male is more oppressed than the Black female. I agree with that. Mostly.
(cont…) To Sarah C. Geiger:

Black males are, because of sexism seen as more competition for the white male, sometimes that allows for the Black female to be seen as more malleable. I know in Haiti, the US corporations would rather hire females in their sweatshops than Haitian men, and so also in Mexico at the Maquiladoras. This of course, further emasculated Black and Brown men who cannot take care of their families. But, Black is also a culture and a consciousness, Sarah C. Geiger, as well as a set of physical characteristics, so when that culture is demeaned, in any way, it affects both Black males and females, Black girls and boys. So, those are the instances where racism trumps sexism, mostly because it maligns a CULTURE, a shared history, a shared consciousness, a family of people. That is not to say Haitian or Black men are not, individually, in many ways, as misogynistic as other men in modern societies. Paradoxically, though, the more powerful spiritual leaders (manbo) in Vodun have been and are: Haitian WOMEN. Still, I didn't start to write to make that point...
To Ezili Danto and all:

I think that Disney distorts most stories and I would not compare Disney to Cameron (as least in Avatar.) Disney's movies (I'm thinking animated---the fairy tales especially) don't go near the more original versions, but stay close to the recent interpretations of fairy tales that I would never (nor did I) read my child. He didn't hear "Cinderella"; he heard Ashputtle---the girl who does the choosing, not the girl who is saved. But Ashputtle is really about sibling rivalry anyway and nothing about "true love" which Disney laps up in its Cinderella version. In fact, when my son did see Cinderella (in a play---typical Disneyesque model) he said, "the step-sisters aren't suppose to be ugly, but beautiful, and what happened to the tree that helps the girl, and what about the blood in the shoe of the stepsisters? ( the stepsisters who deform themselves--lop off parts of their own flesh to get the prince.) Yes, we later discussed the whole shoe fetish thing to begin with and why the blood in the shoe and all that. He got it. But I am getting off track.
I understand your points about Haiti and how you were taught about the First Mother; well, that doesn't happen in America. And we have God on our money, "God Bless America" when our military goes on any mission, and so on--- which goes against our supposed separation of church and state. We even have ministers that speak legally for the state in marriage ceremonies (this is not even allowed in Europe.)
It's important, I think, to remember that in Western religious traditions'-- the deity is male, too (think of people saying God is not male; He is Spirit. That tells the tale)---the deity written on our money is male and is suppose to bless America "herself." None of that do I agree with. In Western religions world (which originated in the Middle East) try speaking of "God" as She (God is a word that is associated with maleness) and if you speak of the deity as "She" as opposed to "He", suddenly we're into paganism. The female at least in America, overwhelmingly, is not considered adequate metaphor for the Divine at all.
Think though, please please of Will Smith, a black man, in roles where he has saves the entire planet (twice now) and the upcoming movie with Denzel Washington where he, too, a black man will save the planet. Those movies will have nothing about the female divine, will have little but destruction in them and shows only a heroic male that must "save" us---leaving out any heroines for the most part. Personally, I think no boys need to see that stuff. White, black, red, or brown.
I understand your point of view re: Haiti and the Vodun comment (in Avatar) and I agree that would make me angry if I were you and grown up in your culture. Note, though, that Grace reverses her Vodun comment as she is dying. Her biology isn't what she speaks of in her last breath. What she speaks of in a positive way is what she earlier had put down. She saw. She saw what the Vodun legends and stories speak of and she spoke of what she saw in her last words.
Thank you for your article, your blog, and for allowing and encouraging discussion and insight.
Just came across this when reading tonight. It reminded me of Avatar and how it is been called simplistic and racist and all kinds of things---it's an old tale full of much much more.

I was reading Gregory Maquire (author of Wicked--where the witch and her son are green.) But, this is from another book of his...

"Hobbling home under a mackerel sky, I came upon a group of children. They were tossing their toys in the air, by turns telling a story and acting it too. A play about a pretty girl who was scorned by her two stepsisters. In distress, the child disguised herself to go to a ball. There, the great turnabout: She met a prince who adored her and romanced her. her happiness eclipsed the plight of her stepsisters, whose ugliness was the cause of high merriment.
I listened without being observed, for the aged are often invisible to the young.
I thought: How like some ancient story this all sounds. Have these children overheard their grandparents revisiting some dusty gossip about me and my kin, and are the little ones turning it into a household tale of magic? Full of fanciful touches: glass slippers, a fairy godmother? Or are the children dressing themselves in some older gospel, which my family saga resembles only by accident?"
Great post. Thanks for your opinion.

Just came across this when reading tonight. It reminded me of Avatar and how it is been called simplistic and racist and all kinds of things---it's an old tale full of much much more.

I was reading Gregory Maquire LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 (author of Wicked--where the witch and her son are green.) But, this is from another book of his...
I so enjoyed reading this...and have nothing to add intelligently on the racial aspects...but I will say I could not stand this film, it felt like an outdated 30 year old idea from the early seventies that finally had technology to make it happen. Which, I believe, is true. The premise needed updating from the early seventies, badly, in my opinion.

The most heart wrenching moment for me was when the tree fell, I still feel sick if I think about it, it just symbolized too much of how we treat our world, and the tree was the most relate-able character in the movie for me.
The rest felt like someone's ego trip.
good apreciation...good writer, good post and very useful information, thanks.