By Anonymous (not verified) on January 05, 2010

If director James Cameron was looking to tell a story from the point of view of people of color, as he said he was, then he fell woefully short in “Avatar.” Whatever his intentions, the movie is actually a study of the white savior complex.

Here’s the setup: The bad guy is a mad preppy corporate exec who employs a small army of former marines for security and directs them to attack the indigenous Na’vi people because his company wants a mineral called unobtainium that’s underneath the soil in Pandora, where the Na’vi people live.

Enter Sigourney Weaver as Grace Augustine. She is the scientist who is wiring the humans’ brains into the bodies of Na’vi avatars to try to win the indigenous people’s trust. Her goal is to convince them to leave their ancestral lands where the life force of their mother Goddess and Tree of Souls (ancestors) lives and go elsewhere so the corporate exec can get the minerals.

If Augustine and her team don’t succeed with their brainwashing, then the corporate guy will just get his military forces to crush the Na’vis with tanks and bombs.

In defending the spiritual importance of that Na’vi tree, Augustine says at one point that this isn’t some pagan Vodun. She says the destruction of the tree will affect the biological connection to nature’s life force of all Na’vi organisms. This is the same scientist who, later on in the movie, would be rushed to the Tree of Souls for a chanting ritual of healing and invoking of sacred energies that pretty much looked like Vodun to me. (In Haiti, Vodun means lifting up “sacred energies.”)

Note how Cameron uses Augustine to belittle an actual indigenous Haitian cultural practice in order to elevate his fictional indigenous culture.

And note how Cameron elevates the fate of Augustine over that of the indigenous. In the middle of their grieving all that they have lost from the shock and awe attack upon their village, the Na’vi make her healing the priority. The whole village has just lost its beloved king and numerous people, yet the Na’vi sit in unison to chant for her well-being.

Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, is the white hero who enters the Na’vi’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 warmongers.

Jake is Cameron’s version of Tarzan, the white man who will save the “savages.”

Jake is the only one who can successfully pray to the Na’vi’s mother goddess (Eywa). She hears him, not her own people’s prayers and grief.

Jake mates with Neytiri, the most beautiful, most powerful warrior princess in the realm but he expects her intended, Tsu’Tey, the young warrior prince, the king-to-be, to meekly accept this fait accompli. Tsu’Tey is supposed to be subservient to Jake because Jake has succeeded in taming and riding the Toruk, an immensely powerful red flying beast that only five Na’vi have ever tamed in their history.

When Jake swoops down from above astride the red Toruk, he becomes not just a mythical hero, he becomes the white messiah, and now he wants Tsu’Tey, whose character is voiced by the black actor Laz Alonso, to submit to him as leader of the Na’vi and even to translate for him as he addresses the new king’s people and revs them up for war against the humans.

The emasculation of the black man here cannot be more obvious.

Comedian Richard Pryor once made the pointed comment to his black audience: “Do you have any dreams? They’ll want them, too.”

Cameron proves Pryor’s point in “Avatar.”

Ezili Danto is an award-winning playwright, performance poet and human rights attorney. She is the founder of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

This op-ed was adapted from a longer piece by Ezili Danto, which you can read by clicking here: http://open.salon.com

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

A fun event ridiculed reactionaries and upheld women's reproductive rights.

By Jenni Dye

Is thinking that I should be paid the same as a man if I do the same work a radical, anti-...

By Matthew Rothschild

So Eric Holder is finally resigning as Attorney...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter