Dances With Aliens: James Cameron’s Avatar Movie and White “Saviors” (Updated)

In our book Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003) we discussed two types of white hero that often appear in American movies: the white messiah and the racial masquerader. The narcissistic fantasy of the a white hero who leads people of another color in a struggle of liberation presents whites a pleasing images of themselves as saviors rather than oppressors. The racial masquerade is another fantasy solution to white guilt in which the white hero crosses over and pretends to be black or native American.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: gwai

James Cameron’s “Avatar” combines these two archetypes in a movie that might be called Dances With Aliens. What is new in the movie is the eye-popping visual effects technology, with its detailed, stunning creation of an alien planet, complete with exotic flora, fauna, and indigenous population with its own language. But the plot is a pastiche, recycled junk from a dozen movies about the adventures of a mythic white hero in a distant land or on a distant planet, including “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Star Wars,” “Star Gate,” “Dune,” “Pocahontas,” “The Matrix,” “The Last Samurai,” and “Dances With Wolves.” The story is predictable: the coming of the messiah is foretold, he shows tremendous ability and charisma, quickly learns the indigenous ways, marries the beautiful native princess, is inducted into the tribe, and ends by uniting with and leading them in a struggle for survival and freedom against evil outsiders. The white American racial imagination seems to require such stories.

On the one hand,Avatar” sends numerous positive messages to an American and a global audience: it is pro-environment, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and pro-gender equality. It also mercilessly mocks the rhetoric of the George W. Bush administration about “pre-emptive strikes” and “shock and awe” and the use of mercenary armies such as Black water. On the other hand, these messages provide cover for a regressive myth about a white messiah and the noble savages—a white messiah who is reborn as the noblest savage of them all, as in The Last Samurai, Dances With Wolves, and the other movies mentioned above.

In Avatar,” we have the paradox of the most expensive movie ever made, American corporations investing $230 million plus another $150 million on promotion to disseminate an apparently anti-corporate and anti-white American message. Why? Well, first of all, the formula still works: this visually astonishing action-adventure fantasy will be enormously profitable globally through cinema, video game, and numerous ancillary products. Second, it assuages the guilt of a white American audience about what we continue to do to racial and ethnic minorities here and abroad. And third, it reassures the global audience about the morality of white America, which can criticize and confront its own evils, at least in the movies.

Finally, Avatar” is a racial fantasy for the Age of Obama. Like Obama, the protagonist Jake is racially mixed: although he starts out as white guy, he ends up inhabiting the body of an aboriginal on an alien planet. And like Obama, Jake is accused of being anti-capitalist and anti-white. Yet the movie is a supremely capitalist product which resolves white guilt. It does so by dividing whites into two sides: the maniacal white mercenaries who destroy the environment and kill the native population on behalf of the greedy corporations; and the noble white messiah who goes native and leads the tribes in a successful battle to preserve their land and their way of life against the evil whites. This movie is supposedly set on the distant planet Pandora, but it really takes place close to home, for it opens up the Pandora’s box of the American racial unconscious.

Updated by admin 01/11/2010: Looks like David Brooks, NY Times columnist, has been reading here and drawing heavily on the same ideas.  Would be nice to get a link back from the NY Times, eh Mr. Brooks?

Comments

  1. Illusions

    Well, I agree that the tropes in this movie is overplayed. I get tired of both the “white rapist of all that is good and natural trope” and the “individual white who somehow becomes enlightened and repents, saving the ‘noble savage’ from the evil white people’ trope. Not to mention the “noble savage living in perfect harmony with each other and nature until the evil white man comes along” trope. It was visually pretty though.

    “Yet the movie is a supremely capitalist product which resolves white guilt. It does so by dividing whites into two sides: the maniacal white mercenaries who destroy the environment and kill the native population on behalf of the greedy corporations; and the noble white messiah who goes native and leads the tribes in a successful battle to preserve their land and their way of life against the evil whites.”

    I guess I can see how it might resolve “white guilt” on a small scale, (its usually one or just a few repentant whites) I also see how it could instill it. Allowing some whites to NOT be “evil exploiters” also allows an individual who themselves ISNT feeling guilty a way to say, “well that explains why I cant agree that all whites are evil. I guess most are, and I am just the exception, not the rule.”

    From the original post,

    “Finally, “Avatar” is a racial fantasy for the Age of Obama. Like Obama, the protagonist Jake is racially mixed: although he starts out as white guy, he ends up inhabiting the body of an aboriginal on an alien planet. And like Obama, Jake is accused of being anti-capitalist and anti-white.”

    Interesting. It reminds me of another movie with the same basic collection of tropes, “King Arthur” a 2004 film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by David Franzoni. Here, though, the people who will later play the role of evil villain, the people of the British Isles, are themselves the ‘noble savages’ and the Romans get to be the “destroyers of all that is natural and good.” In this film, Arthur is the hero who becomes the savior having begun on the side of the oppressors, and although he was raised as a Roman, he part way through the film discovers that he is half ‘noble savage.’

  2. No1KState

    Could the US mainstream audience accept a large scale movie that didn’t involve a white hero? With the exception of THE COLOR PURPLE, I can’t think of a mainstream(ed) movie that dealt with race without involving a white hero. And I’m not sure THE COLOR PURPLE is all that mainstreamed.

    • Illusions

      Well, yes to the first question you ask. I can think of several mainstream movies that have non white actors as the hero.

      When you throw race into the mix, I would guess that would depend on whether or not you meant only a non white actor as hero and no sympathetic or positive white lead characters as well. “Guess who’s coming to dinner” comes to mind as an early example, and a lot of Spike Lee’s films deal with race, and have non-white hero’s. I am not sure if you would consider them mainstream enough, if you have doubts about The Color Purple. I personally would consider them mainstream, they aren’t indies, but film buffs debate what it means to be mainstream, and I dont pretend to know myself how that should be defined.

      • No1KState

        I meant where the star, the shining light, the leading actor was a person of color.

        GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER doesn’t quite qualify. Not for me. Part of the moral wasn’t just white racism, it was the mythical black racism and defeatism. Part of the message was, “You think of yourself as a black man. I think of myself as just a man,” right? Which would be fair if it were true that we as black people can’t see ourselves as just “people.” So, Portier wasn’t exactly an anti-racism, anti-capitalism hero. He was more of the assimilationist that white America has come to treasure so much.

        Besides, he’s not even listed as the leading actor.

        Spike Lee isn’t indy, but he’s not mainstream either. Hollywood-famous, sure. But . . . think of it like this: how many average Americans can quote from the GODFATHER and how many can quote from DO THE RIGHT THING? Or even, how many average Americans can name 2 movies with Terrence Howard prior to THE HUSTLER? THE COLOR PURPLE and DIRTY DANCING came out just two years apart. Do as many people know “You told Harpo to beat me,” as know “Nobody puts Baby in a corner?”

        The movie doesn’t necessarily have to be about race, though to be clear, I was considering only movies dealing with race in my question. And I wasn’t asking rhetorically. I really can’t think of any.

        THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS could be one, but it was a movie based on a black man’s auto-biography. By the very nature of that movie, the hero had to be the black guy for the actual Christopher guy to have endorsed it the way he did. And even there, Will Smith and the actual guy are not the same complexion. So even there, I’m not sure the movie was absent racial undertones such that the star had to be as mainstream as possible.

        Someone mentioned HOTEL RWANDA, so there’s that one. If there’re any other movies featuring a leading character of color who’s the (sympathetic) hero and solo lead actor/actresses, I’m asking an actual question because none come to mind.

  3. marandaNJ

    Regarding mainstream America’s interest in a black hero in a race related movie:
    Ever hear of Kunte Kinte? Alex Haley’s acclaimed book Roots, tracing his African heritage all the way from the village of Juffere in Africa where his ancester was carried on a slave ship to Virginia in the 1700′s, was made into a television mini-series in 1977. It broke all records for television viewing until that time. The series consisted of 2-hour segments for one full week. The whole country was riveted to their televisions. The black star was LaVar Burton. But it featured dozens of other black Hollywood actors as it traced Haley’s family from the 1700′s to the 1940′s, including Ben Vereen and Leslie Uggams. Yes, I think America would very much appreciate more movies like this. I don’t know why Hollywood doesn’t make more! I was 12 when I watched it and it’s still used today as a teaching tool in classrooms.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neOficBildo

    • No1KState

      ROOTS was a TV mini-series not a mainstream Hollywood movie.

      It came out 5 years after THE GODFATHER. Ask around your family and friends and see which one of the two they enjoyed/recall/remember the most. Which one do they think has had a greater cultural impact?

      Stop trying to be such a smart-alek. That type of thing is prized in my family. It was my mother who, after my crying about friends complaining that I was rushing through classwork, instructed me to say, “I’m not rushin’. I’m African American.” I was in the first grade, 6 or 7 years old. I used to be chastised for letting people talk down to me without at the very least commanding respect by turning the other cheek. Hardly a conversation goes by without someone making a snappy joke about something, whether it’s the Republicans or a bad play call by a football coach. And if someone says something really good like, “Bush can’t lead us into prayer, much less into war!” (That one was mine!) other family members are called so they can laugh too.

      I actually do try very hard not to be a “wise-guy.” Granted, I’m not always successful. So, if not for any other reason than not to tempt me, let’s save smart-alekky responses for when they’re necessary. Kinda the way TYPING EVERYTHING IN CAPS ALL THE TIME WEAKENS THE POTENTIAL “UMPH” WHEN IT’S NECESSARY TO USE ALL CAPS.

      So, just to be sure, I’m talking about a movie with a decent Hollywood budget that’s advertised on network TV during primetime. A regular, mainstream Hollywood movie.

      Now, to your question, I wonder why too. From everything I’ve learned about Hollywood and movie-making, most decisions are about money. Henry Gates did a PBS special and one of the top movie producers candidly said basically that only 1 maybe 2 movies are made every couple of years are so that are really socially conscious because money is made else where. He said more than that, but I’m probably not the best messenger.

      Oh. No Tyler Perry movies since none of his movies come out of mainstream Hollywood. And lets go for as few as Oprah endorsed movies as possible. By that I mean THE GREAT DEBATERS would qualify for me if it had a decent budget and would have done well at the box office without Oprah’s seal of approval.

      Though, since it wasn’t an indy film, we can keep it in the discussion.

      • No1KState

        Oh, and for the record, in this particular situation, the friends who were teasing me were white. They weren’t being anti-education; they were just . . . I don’t know, they didn’t like the fact that I finished my work long before they did, and they were considered “academically gifted” too. I don’t know that race was involved. Kids in accelerated tracks are given to that type of competition. I remember the day in high school one when, for the last time, someone asked me what I had made on a test. She had made a 95, fabulous for AP biology. But I made a 98. So that was the end of that.

      • marandaNJ

        OK, just to be clear here. I wasn’t trying to be a SMART ALEC. If you’d been alive during the making of Roots you would have known the tremendous Impact it made on the American public. Isn’t the fact that it’s used in classrooms today tell you something about this?
        I thought you were a sophisticated, educated debator. So please show it. Don’t diminish someone else’s responses in a childish name-calling fashion because you are stumped for an academic response.
        I have Never addressed you in the manner of this last comment you made to me. You ask for examples of black heroes in race movies and I gave you a Hallmark American movie that many people claimed changed their views on slavery. Your response is “Yeah, but it came out 5 years after The Godfather” and “I just bet whites liked the Godfather more!”
        This is called a Non-sequitor argument in that it Does Not Follow my response in any logical manner. Your comment about The Godfather has no relevance at all to my comment. Please see definition below.
        I believe you’re trying to make a case that America isn’t interested in seeing movies with black heros regarding race? So when you see otherwise, this makes you angry? I don’t understand your line of reasoning at all.
        Non sequitur (Latin for “it does not follow”), in formal logic, is an argument in which its conclusion does not follow from its premises.

        • No1KState

          Thanks for making my point about your attempts to . . . out wit. Since when does anyone begin a sentence with, “Ever heard of . . .,” and not have some degree of snottiness involved?

          Not unlike your asking me to define black and white cultures with the warning that I was describing millions of people. You really asked that in sincerity and not snottiness? Are not you trying to be a smart alek by defining non sequitur for me? Are you not trying to be a bit of a wise guy by describing the type of debator you thought I was?

          And since when does, “Please stop with the smart-alek retorts,” amount to, “Nanny, nanny, boo boo” name calling?

          I understand ‘non sequitur.’ Just because I’m not following your logic doesn’t mean my argument concludes in a manner not following its premises. After all, it’s not incumbent upon me to follow your response but for your response to have followed my initial question, and it didn’t. ROOTS was not a large scale movie; it came out over 30 years ago; and it didn’t have nearly the mainstream resonance as a Hollywood movie, which is what the question concerned, that came out about the same time. Like you said pointed out, ROOTS was a Hallmark TV mini-series, not a Paramount movie.

          Moreover, the movie GODFATHER and mini-series ROOTS both came out about 30 years ago. Logically my question concerned the present-day time framing. ROOTS still reruns on the cable network TV One. TV One is not mainstream.

          So while I appreciate that you use the mini-series as a teaching tool, the fact that you have to resort to a movie made in the 70s as opposed to more recent movies like ROSEWOOD is an indication of the lack of mainstream Hollywood movie featuring black heros. Whatever cultural impact it may have had hardly lasted past the Carter administration, what with the blacklash in the 80s and my AP US history teacher telling us that slavery wasn’t “all that bad.”

          Now, for the sake of redeeming my sophisticated, educated debator credentials, I’ll follow your logic of my logic.

          - No, I wasn’t trying to prove anything.
          - You didn’t show me otherwise. Kunta Kinte died a slave with no toes called Toby. He was not a hero in the line of the white “saviors” like the AVATAR character.
          - By definition, mainstream (adj – belonging to or characteristic of a principal, dominant, or widely accepted group, movement, style, etc.: mainstream Republicans; a mainstream artist), when applied to the US as in “US mainstream audience,” entails large white participation.
          For example, Obama was a mainstream candidate unlike Al Sharpton or Cynthia McKinney. So yeah, if GODFATHER has a larger cultural resonance among whites than ROOTS, that takes away from any “mainstream” credentials ROOTS may have had. I don’t “just bet” white people like THE GODFATHER more ROOTS; I’m certain they do.
          - I wasn’t angry that you mentioned ROOTS. I was agitated that you continue with the smart-alec, “prove it,” routine.
          - Contrasting ROOTS to THE GODFATHER to illustrate that ROOTS isn’t mainstream for the purpose of revealing an error or omission in your argument is a perfectly intellectually honest debate tactic. After all, if I’m trying to make the point that ROOTS doesn’t qualify as mainstream, contrasting it to a movie that is mainstream is a way of doing so.
          - No, I wasn’t alive when ROOTS came out. As a youngster I didn’t watch it because I didn’t like the picture quality. Since then, I haven’t watched it cause since watching ROSEWOOD, I can’t watch movies like that without becoming enraged. That said, ROOTS is a mainstay in the black community. Jokes about Chicken George and beating someone like Kunta Kinte and/or until they answer their name is Toby are very common.
          - If references to ROOTS aren’t common in the white community, then ROOTS doesn’t qualify as mainstream. For example, if you come across some black folks who haven’t seen THE GODFATHER, they’ll still recognize, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” Will a group of white people who haven’t seen ROOTS understand, “I’ma beatchu till you say your name is Toby?”
          - By saying you don’t know why Hollywood hasn’t made more movies like ROOTS, you already concede that a mainstream US audience might not be ready for a movie with a black savior type hero like Tobey Maguire in any number of his movies.

          Now, if you honestly thought that perhaps I hadn’t heard of ROOTS, then I apologize for accusing you of being a wise guy. My bad. And if I may make a point that would relate to another thread, if you honestly thought that perhaps I hadn’t heard of ROOTS, then you know far too little about black culture to make declarations about our feelings towards education.

      • Illusions

        “From everything I’ve learned about Hollywood and movie-making, most decisions are about money. Henry Gates did a PBS special and one of the top movie producers candidly said basically that only 1 maybe 2 movies are made every couple of years are so that are really socially conscious because money is made else where. He said more than that, but I’m probably not the best messenger.”

        I think that this is the real root of the problem, not just that Americans couldnt tolerate a movie about race with a non-white actor. Clearly we do enjoy and pay to see blacks as the leading characters, if the storyline appeals on other levels.

        Americans in general are not encouraged to look at painful and difficult issues. In general, we seem to prefer distraction from difficult or painful topics. Race is a painful and difficult topic. Even here, where we are all well educated and essentially in agreement that racism is something we want to stop.

        Even movies with white leading actors that make us think too much about unpleasant things dont do very well. And not only when they are about race. One of my favorite movies is the Lord of War, with Nicolas Cage. But I have a hard time getting people to watch it with me. A lot of them say, “Its too depressing. Lets watch something else.”

        The Color Purple actually had two strikes against it, and that was that it dealt with both racism AND sexism. It was painful to a much wider audience, but it still did well.

        I dont even know if the escape from painful reality thing is just an American phenomenon, or if it is something that humans in general tend to try to do. Hence the prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse among people for whom Hollywood movies, video games, and consumerism is not a viable option.

  4. marandaNJ

    To Moderators: I would really like to thank you for admitting that last comment. You two are old enough to remember the Huge impact the movie Roots made with the American public. Many, many scenes from that movie are fixed in the American conscious and will be forever.
    Especially the one where Kunta gets whipped again and again because he refuses to answer to the name given him by his owners: Toby. He always thought of himself as Kunta Kinte until the day he died. And passed on as much of his African heritage as he could to other slaves. And this is not a work of historical fiction, but a true narrative of Haley’s ancestor’s experiences!
    It took Haley 10 years to research his ancestry. He finally made it back to Africa and received information from the village “griot” [keeper of oral history] in Juffere regarding His Own Lineage. He said it was an unbelievable moment in his life! The griot told him about how Kunte went out in the forest alone to find a hollow log with which to make a drum. His family had warned him not to travel alone because there was news that the white man “Toubob” were spotted capturing people from other villages. Yet, Kunte went alone and was indeed captured.
    The scene on the slave ship chained with hundreds of other slaves was shown in a very realistic manner. The misery of this Atlantic crossing astounded white America, many who reportedly, had little knowledge of what slaves really suffered.
    Anyway, I own the book and the VHS tapes of the entire series. Through one very proud African, the white world had a better understanding than they ever did about the effects of slavery on the human heart.
    I also own Queen by Alex Haley. This is about his history from his father’s side of the family. Queen was a slave whose mother was raped by her white owner, so was half-white. But her father did not acknowledge this or do anything to help her after the Civil War.

  5. No1KState

    COACH CARTER is a movie with a black savior. I’m not sure of its mainstream appeal. It’s shown on FX often. It was nominated for People’s Choice and Teen Choice awards. So, there’s at least one movie with a black hero/savior.

    @ illusions – I actually agreed with much of what you had to say. And that’s what surprised me.

  6. shlemmy

    Of course there is a “white messiah” myth that shows up in films like “Dances with Wolves” and “Last Samurai” and others. But the character Jake in Avatar is not a white messiah…my assertion is that James Cameron completely flipped the white-messiah script and the film is actually a deconstruction of the idea! The character Jake, albeit white, is so inept and crippled that he must be reborn as one of the Na’vi in order to function at all…he must forsake his white body, identity, and life for a Na’vi one to do anything at all. He doesn’t come in and save them, he comes in and fails them, precisely because he is a white guy with white guy loyalties. It is only when in abject submission to the need to be Na’vi and not white, knowing his only recourse to help them is to get more of them to help themselves, that the culture is saved.

    Let’s start with what’s insidious about critiques like yours and David Brooks.’ Notice how Brooks in his critique reduces the very complex culture of the Na’vi portrayed by Cameron in the film to this: “The peace-loving natives — compiled from a mélange of Native American, African, Vietnamese, Iraqi and other cultural fragments — are like the peace-loving natives you’ve seen in a hundred other movies. They’re tall, muscular and admirably slender. They walk around nearly naked. They are phenomenal athletes and pretty good singers and dancers.”

    This is a completely denigrating take on what was portrayed as a sophisticated hunter-gatherer society of great intelligence, skill, creativity, ability, and awareness. Yet Brooks makes them sound like Tonto or Mammy. Even you call them “noble savages”. That interpretation…from Brooks or from an academic of color…is almost totally bigoted, compared to the interpretation of an amazing culture I took away, and frankly what most people of color are saying they saw in the film. Are David Brooks and a small number of academic/ideological people of color smarter than the rest of black/Latino/Asian America? Or are you buying into the stereotypes yourself? With David Brooks, it’s typical conservative: sneaky and deceptive. By engaging in a liberal critique, he thinks he can sneak his white conservative bigotry into his article and make it look like part of the liberal critique—with no one noticing. But I can’t figure out why you’re doing this. Do you think YOU are a messiah of color?

    So, about the plot in detail. Jake, precisely because he is white and has white loyalties as an “American outsider” who adopted Na’vi ways, absolutely fails the Na’vi. That is a rejection of the white messiah fable. Jakes is utterly incapable of helping the Na’vi at all without, not being “redeemed,” but rather becoming entirely OTHER: a Na’vi. Kevin Kostner and Tom Cruise did what they did in their white savior films because they were white…Jake can’t do jack as a white guy…and that is a deconstruction of the white messiah fable!

    The floating poofies recognized purity of soul, and they recognized it in Jake, but not as a human, as a Na’vi. The message to Neytiri simply was not to kill him because his soul was pure. Jake having a pure soul isn’t some kind of messiah image: the point of that plotline I believe is that souls are souls, and indeed, Jake’s pure soul needed to go where it was supposed to go…to become Na’vi. That’s not a white messiah plot; it’s a rejection of that plot! There is no redemption of Jake/white guy; Jake/white guy DIES. There can only be Na’vi Jake. Again, the white messiah and whiteness are rejected, and what is affirmed is the Na’vi being empowered to help themselves.

    About the big red dragon: Jake/white guy simply could not have ridden the dragon, because of the nerve links. Jake/white guy could not have been received as a liberator upon riding the dragon into camp; only a fully incarnated Na’vi could. And even Jake/Na’vi being able to ride the dragon didn’t mean a thing without the Na’vi and their own cultural traditions. The Na’vi recognized this as an event, the return of a Kurok, that was wholly their own, not something some white person invented; Jake was simply a catalyst, not a savior. The Na’vi themselves took the cue to organize the clans. Jake’s first words off the dragon to the new King reinforce the entire film’s plot: “I can’t do this…YOU need to do this.” Remember the narrative arc: Jake has begun to “die” to himself and decided to become one of them at that point. His soul—the universal purity recognized by the poofies–has become Na’vi! So the Na’vi take the initiative and signaled by a new Kurok, the new Na’vi KING brings together his people to form their own army, which Jake cannot do.

    Why can’t liberal whites and academics/activists of color see that the Na’vi fought this battle? Do YOU have a secret need to create a white messiah where there isn’t one? Jake had one small part among thousands of Na’vi. Why are YOU making him the messiah?? If anyone was a messiah, it was the new Na’vi King, who gave his life in the battle to allow his people to live. Jake can’t even save himself…Neytiri has to save him! Why aren’t any of you seeing that? He’s not a messiah…dude can’t even save his own a**!

    You will have Latino and black folks who think it’s white messiah fable just as there are whites who think that. But the majority of people of all races are getting this. I’ve read many, many comments by people of color on various online media, who love the film because it empowers people who obviously are metaphorical for people of color, especially women; calls status-quo, white privilege and bigotry on the carpet; and questions the American ethos of colonialism and greed. It’s a glorious rejection of white colonialism and white saviors. It’s a glorious affirmation of indigenous self-determination and honor of people of color and their cultures and a condemnation of their destruction. It says that whites are inevitably useless in terms of being saviors to indigenous people, and is a rejection of the white messiah fable. That’s something the dominant culture needs to consider. Indeed, in our age the white-messiah has left the building. Kudos to James Cameron for putting the clarion call onscreen! And only for $240 million!

    • No1KState

      I haven’t seen the movie.

      Yours is any interesting take. It seems reasonable. I can’t wholly reject it. But that Jake had any involvement at all, especially if it was as the Kurok (?) riding in on the dragon and getting more of them to help themselves, seems suspect to me.

      I don’t think that Neytiri’s (sounds like Egyptian queen like Nefertari) saving him is much different from Pocahantes’s saving John Smith, and we know how that story ended.

      And it could be me, but I’m as fed up with the notion that blacks and other minorities should (have to) do more to help themselves as I am with the white messiah complex. Brooks critique to me by surprise, but I agree with you as for his motivation. But before I decide not to watch this movie (I’ve decided not to see Gran Tarintino, either.), I guess I better look into it some more. Thanks for the different take.

      Now, for future references, I’m a woman of color. Some other commenters are racial minorities. But the two main administrators are white. I’m not sure about Hernan and Andrew, though. So it’s never safe to assume any particular commenter or author is a person of color. Just so you know.

  7. No1KState

    @ schlemmy – and others cause who knows if s/he is coming back?

    I’ve read as much as I could in the past two and a half hours. I just googled results and I also went to some trusted black progressive sites for their reactions. I also checked out a site I know has some sci-fi lovers among them.

    So, at least, if a majority of blacks think the movie is perfectly fine, a doubt it’s a healthy majority.

    As for academics and activists of color, I think it’s fair to say that being students of the particular issue, we know when we’re being insulted whereas others, who don’t pay much attention to the issue, don’t. A number of commenters that I read argue that some blacks make too much of every little thing. I would take that caution if it weren’t the case that there’s so much racism in in every little thing. Racism is multifaceted and has to be attacked on all fronts. I can understand the desire some may have to just be comfortable and themselves and not worry about racism. And actually, whites appear less racist when they are more authentic. That said, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to ever be comfortable with injustice.

    Also, a number of commenters I read don’t understand how racism operates. And without knowing whether or not you’re coming back, I don’t care to do a racism 101 review for you. You might not care for that either. But, a number of people are uninformed. Even as they argue that the film isn’t racist, in explaining why it’s not, they actually describe why it is.

    And it would seem that more than a few don’t know what “messiah” means. It means “the one who saves.” Jesus is the “Messiah” of Christianity because his death saves, thus making him “the One who saves.” But as a general term, a person doesn’t have to die to be a “messiah.”

    Understand, it’s a white fantasy: to, as someone put it, atone for racism without losing their white privilege. So after the king dies, Sully (really?) takes over leadership of the Na’vi rebel army. That’s white privilege. He’s brought over by a love affair with a Na’vi woman, and the princess warrior at that! That’s white male privilege and certainly white male sexual fantasy. (Aw, man! I thought I could be with a white guy who’s an anti-racist; but now, I’m not sure I’ll be able to get that thought out of my head. …Unless it’s Brad Pitt, then all bets are off!) And Sully is the only one the Na’vi goddess hears? The Na’vi goddess can’t hear the Na’vi? That’s racist all day long.

    Don’t get me wrong. From what I can tell from the spoilers, there’re lots of good messages. Anti-imperialism, anti-militarialism. It’s pro-environment. The Na’vi diety is a goddess. All good stuff. And Jake has to learn to respect all cultures as equal. For all of that, I see know problem with kicking back and being swept away for two hours.

    But let’s be clear. The term and image of monkeys and apes has been used for the past few centuries to degrade people of sub-Saharan African descent. So James may be using the term “blue monkeys” to illustrate the general’s racism; but, in doing so, he is asserting that the Na’vi are representative of people of color, if not specifically black people.

    And currently, it’s not people of color, especially in America, who need to learn to respect the culture and ways of others. Female friends in college liked the fact that they got multi-cultural course credit for Intro to Women’s studies. I liked the fact that I got course credit for women’s studies and Afam. So, the message of “tolerance” is geared at us.

    Someone and jackandjill, I think, asked a great question: how would [the author] feel if Jake Sully had been played by Morris Chesnut. Personally, I would feel differently because Sully would be of a different race. If we accept the Na’vi as people of color, it’s not racist for a person of color to come in and save them.

    I mean, if Sully had just joined the resistance and not led it at any point or advise the king in anyway except to give military intelligence, then sure, the movie would be anti-racist through and through. For that matter, Sully could’ve been a woman who’s saved by the Na’vi prince with whom she falls in love.

    But. If for no other reason than profits, the fact that the ultimate star and hero of the movie is a white guy, is, at the very least, racial.

  8. aforce333

    I AM A WHITE 54 YEAR OLD MORMON AND I AGREE COMPLETELY WITH THE UNDERLYING MESSAGE MADE THE MOVIE AVATAR. IT IS SO UNFORTUNATE THAT PEOPLE HAVE TO HIDE THEIR STUPID NAIVE OPINIONS IN MOVIES SEEN BY A GENERATION OF PEOPLE SO SCREWED UP BY POLITICAL OPINION AND RACIST CRAP, WOULD IT NOT BE GREAT IF PEOPLE REALIZED THAT THEY ARE OF SOME COLOR ,WHATEVER COLOR THAT MIGHT BE AND JUST GET ON WITH LIFE AND LET US ENJOY A MOVIE FOR ITS CREATIVITY AND NOT SOME STUPID HIDDEN MESSAGES TO SCREW UP OUR KIDS!!!!! GREAT ARTICLE,WRITTEN WITH TRUTH AND HONESTY

  9. marandaNJ

    I just read the above comment. Lots to think about for sure.
    Firstly, I never saw Precious but I did see the previews. I didn’t like what I saw in terms of the Horrible Image it portrayed of the poorer African American community. Talk about promoting the worst stereotypes possible! No wonder black people are divided on this movie. If I were African American, I’d be incensed that a black man directed this phenomenon and that Oprah was promoting it. I Still don’t know if this movie is admonishing the white community about putting blacks in poor neighborhoods in the first place or admonishing blacks for failing their children? I just don’t know what gives here.
    I do know that the saviors are beautiful and slender women though! What’s that all about? I wonder if this movie is more an acknowledgment of the sufferings of the less attractive versus the more attractive. Why wasn’t Precious portrayed as slender and beautiful? Anyway, I think it’s a disservice to Afrian Americans.
    As far as using the white savior in many Hollywood movies, this may be more about money and race than merely about race. The Hollywood execs who give the nod on spending millions on the creation of a movie are white. They direct most of their movies toward a target white middle-class audience. Thus, perhaps they believe that this audience desires [even subconsciously] a white hero/heroine. Maybe they think a black hero ‘won’t sell’.
    I mentioned the television series Roots earlier. I know a little of the history of this production. Hollywood producers rejected this idea at first in the early 1970′s. They said [paraphrasing], ‘middle America isn’t interested in watching a mini-series about slavery for 10 hours.’ They thought the concept simply wouldn’t sell.
    I think the way to go is to make African Americans heros who save their own people. They stand up for what’s moral and just Themselves, and then whites end up conceding [in shame] that they are bigoted and at fault. No more half-white glams necessary either.

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