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Avatar or Fantasy: Is James Cameron A Racist?

Written by Erin Dawson

As I was writing my review of James Cameron’s new blockbuster, Avatar, I came across a disappointing amount of critics claiming the movie was a racist white guilt fantasy with yet another white hero saving the poor non-white indigenous people.  While I’d like to be able to talk about Avatar’s cutting edge special effects or mythological plot, all I can do right now is answer these narrow minded claims of racism.

Dear “Avatar is racist” Critics,

You annoy

“Specifically, it’s a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people.  Avatar and sci-fi films like it give us the opportunity to answer the question: What do white people fantasize about when they fantasize about racial identity?”

Really? So not only do you think all white people must ‘fantasize about racial identity’ in the same way, but James Cameron is also the official spokesperson for all white people….  Since he’s white, and all whites are the same…no, you’re not racist at all…

“The moon’s inhabitants, the Na’vi, are blue, catlike versions of native people: They wear feathers in their hair, worship nature gods, paint their faces for war, use bows and arrows, and live in tribes. Watching the movie, there is really no mistake that these are alien versions of stereotypical native peoples that we’ve seen in Hollywood movies for decades.”

“They wear Maasai-style necklaces and beaded jewelry which Cameron has borrowed from tribal East Africa. Their long, dark hair is dreadlocked. Their clothes are apparently Amerindian. They are armed with bows and poisoned arrows, and wear facepaint into battle… The evil humans, needless to say, are white, male and middle-aged.”

How about opening a history book?  Feathers, bow & arrows, spears, nature deities… these aren’t stereotypes of native people-these are facts. And yes, White people also once lived in tribes and obviously were natives too. They wore the same type of garments, used primitive weapons and worshiped their own gods. Whites didn’t just appear out of thin air with a latte in one hand and a VISA card in the other.

And look closer at “the evil humans” in the movie.  They were not all “white, male, and middle-aged”,  the soldiers were young men and women of every color.  Were you even watching the movie?

“To purge their (the white’s) overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become “race traitors,” and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It’s not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it’s not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It’s a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.”

Avatar is not about a white man swooping in to save the poor indigenous people.  The white man, Jake Sully is saved BY the Na’vi.  Through them, he is able to feel the connection to the world of living things all around and inside him.  This is a spiritual lesson that his culture failed to teach.  For the Na’vi to save Jake, and themselves they had to see past the violence of Jake’s culture and stop viewing him as simply “a demon”.  (”I see you”, remember they said that a billion times in the movie?)  Once they saw Jake for who he was (liar, scared, brave, innocent, guilty, flawed, human) they were able to learn from him, learn about their ‘enemy’ and save themselves.  And once Jake saw them and their way of life, he was able to humble himself, learn to interact with life and bring his spirit into balance and harmony with nature.

OH GOD NOT NATURE AND HARMONY! What a FRICKIN’ NAZI that Jake Sully is!!….Racism!!
And you’re asking why the main character ends up as the leader in the movie? Because The hero is… THE HERO OF THE STORY.  Weird concept, right? Must be racism.

I also find it ironic that so many of these critics are chastising modern society while they sit cozy and safe because of modern society.  I’m sorry, are you blogging from a magical organic MAC in the middle of the enchanted rainforest?  No, you’re not.  Because you’re part of the western culture, the same culture represented by Jake Sully, Colonel Quaritch, Grace Augustine and Trudy Chacon.  Sorry to break it to you, but it doesn’t matter what your skin tone is, if you had the resources to see Avatar and blog about it- you’re part of western society.

If you insist on analyzing this story in terms of race, lets agree it’s about two groups of “people”: The Humans, who have killed their mother (Earth) and the Na’vi who live in harmony with their mother (Eywa).  At least evolve past the notion that the oppressors in modern society are Whites and only Whites.  Whites are not the only ‘race’ of  people living in the “western world”,  and Whites do not all have the same cultural history, geography, mindset, or “guilt” as you like to assume.  I find it extremely offensive that you cast all white people in the role of “The Oppressor” even when it’s clear in the story that the bad guys are all different races, and the good guys are BLUE.

Visit Erin Dawson’s website,

Posted by admin   @   25 January 2010
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Jan 26, 2010
2:02 am
Jan 26, 2010
8:53 am

I must admit that this is one great insight. It surely gives a company the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and really take part in creating something special and tailored to their needs.

Jan 26, 2010
10:25 am
#3 Allison Taylor :

I love everything by this writer. We want more Erin Dawson!

Jan 26, 2010
2:16 pm
#4 duy tran :

Good observation Erin. MAN I can’t believe some people calling James Cameron a racist?! If anything he’s making a metaphor for how we treat the world! And their reaction?!? Their reaction is like the humans in Avatar.

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