Avatar: Count the “isms”

A dark blue face with light green eyes, in shadows, peers out, with the caption 'Avatar.'Spoiler alert.
Saturday night, I watched James Cameron’s Avatar in 3-D. James Cameron spent thirteen years of production time to produce special effects and animation realistic enough to fulfill his lifelong dream of making this movie. But to add insult to injury, Cameron’s long wait time before production is because Avatar is the most “realistic” human resemblance. If “technology has never looked so human in film”, then caricatures of indigenous people have never before been so blatant.
Annalee Newitz, of i09.com, asked “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?

“It’s a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people. Avatar and scifi films like it give us the opportunity to answer the question: What do white people fantasize about when they fantasize about racial identity?
Avatar imaginatively revisits the crime scene of white America’s foundational act of genocide, in which entire native tribes and civilizations were wiped out by European immigrants to the American continent. In the film, a group of soldiers and scientists have set up shop on the verdant moon Pandora, whose landscapes look like a cross between Northern California’s redwood cathedrals and Brazil’s tropical rainforest. 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.”

It also became apparent that the invading scientists and military personnel were not just similar to the implied historic white colonial rule, but were, in fact, almost entirely white actors. A true analogy that reflects the human race as a colonizing power would include more actors of color. Lastly, as Lila Watson said, “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you recognize that your liberation and mine are bound up together, we can [work] together.” But the problem with Avatar’s white guilt fantasy is the same that manifests itself on an individual’s path to white allyship: in Pandora, it is inherently the humans, the free, who come to help the oppressed, the Na’vi.
Furthermore, while Newitz argues that Avatar’s racism is “a matter for debate,” its sexist undertones and ableist plot are also worth questioning.


At FWD (Feminists With Disabilities), Esté Yarmosh posted a thorough roundup of the ableism in Avatar.
When I saw that Jake (the protagonist) uses a wheelchair, I wondered, “Will this be the first time I’ve seen a movie where a main character with a disability hasn’t been magically ‘cured’ by the end?” Jake endures harassment by fellow Marines for his wheelchair use, and we learn that his disability can be “cured” with a costly surgery–when offered the surgery free, he refuses, to continue traveling into the Na’vi world against the wishes of his military superior. Just like the hundreds of teen movies of the “Ugly Duckling” genre, the Sci-Fi plot phenomenon of characters who miraculously regain their able-bodied privilege is pervasive. On i09.com, Charlie Jane Anders chronicled “20 Science Fiction Characters Who Got Their Legs Back,” a brief modern timeline of Sci Fi’s denials and avoidances of living with a disability through the eventual “salvations” of main characters. In Avatar, Jake abandons his wheelchair to be permanently installed in a Na’vi body. The underlying theme is that his human body is inadequate; instead, he achieves some type of salvation by entering his new body.
Na’vi bodies themselves sent an interesting message: standing nine feet tall, lean, with long legs, no hips, and small breasts among the women, they reflect components of the impossible body type projected on women in America. Though dark-skinned, the Na’vi had light-colored eyes, another touch of the “exotic” and desirable. The underlying theme of this sexualization accompanied the main female Na’vi character, Neytiri, the daughter of the Chief, who spoke with an accent and wore beads in her hair, and donned few clothes. Of course, Jake ends up having sex with Neytiri, and when his duplicity is revealed, their mating is treated as an ultimate insult– the human obsession with virtue and virginity seems to manifest here, as not only Neytiri, but also other Na’vi, become angry at Jake for mating with her. Sex-shaming ensues.
And later, even the human bodies in the movie seemed unnecessarily sexualized. After being shot, head scientist Sigourney Weaver was stripped, carried to the base of a tree, draped in leaves, and positioned to display her curves and her milky-white skin while dying. Perhaps the one empowering woman character, Trudy Chacon, played by Michelle Rodriguez of Fast and the Furious fame, martyred herself for the Na’vi. And even while she flew into battle on behalf of the Na’vi, she had abandoned her military uniform for war paint on her face and aircraft, and a feathered headband. What makes this different from doing modern-day racial justice work in blackface? The attempt to imitate the Na’vi culture is insulting at best.
Cameron’s movie does appear to be a white guilt fantasy, and as self-proclaimed “King of the World,” (referring to Pandora, the Na’vi homeland), he is responsible for at least some of the problematic undertones. And precisely because it was a lifetime dream of his to write and produce Avatar, the superiority of humans to the indigenous characters, exotic indigenous bodies, and “salvation” from disability within the movie are unsurprising given that he first dreamed of Pandora five decades ago.

Join the Conversation

  • Kathleen Hagerty

    I saw the movie over the weekend and enjoyed it. It is a devastatingly effective commentary on imperialism and a criticism of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the prior war in Vietnam. The theatres were packed over the past few days with people who are fully engaged in one of the most overt anti-war films I’ve seen in the past decade. This is a good thing, no?
    Further, I would hesitate to accuse James Cameron of sexism, merely judging by his track record of directing films with consistently strong female leads. Alien, in which Sigourney Weaver’s Riley was the most intelligent, competent character, and the only one (besides the cat) who survived. Terminator whose hero, Sarah Conner, is the ultimate matriarchal bad-ass. Titanic! Kate Winslet won an Oscar for this one. She was hands down the hero, rejecting a man who physically abused her, choosing instead to come to America alone. I’ve never seen a Cameron movie with a negative depiction of a female. Avatar is no exception. Saldana, Weaver, and Rodriguez’s characters are compelling, brave, and self sufficient.

  • DeafBrownTrash

    “Of course, Jake ends up having sex with Neytiri, and when his duplicity is revealed, their mating is treated as an ultimate insult– the human obsession with virtue and virginity seems to manifest here, as not only Neytiri, but also other Na’vi, become angry at Jake for mating with her. Sex-shaming ensues.”
    …sex shaming? Um– NO. Neytiri was angry at Jack because he LIED to her and deceived her. He pretended to be something that he wasn’t and that infuriated her and all of her tribe. I never saw it as sex-shaming.
    however, I must admit that race (ethnicity) issues in this film are problematic, but for gender politics, I thought the film was great.
    I really didn’t see anything in the film that was ableist (sp?). Early on in the film, we saw Jack struggling to get up on the machine (to be hooked up to his avatar). He ws trying to move his legs. Sigourney Weaver’s character was gonna help lift his legs and he stopped her and said “no, I’ll move myself.” He didn’t want her or anyone else to treat him like he was weak or crippled.
    That really struck me. I’m not physically handicapped, but I’m Deaf and I’ve resented the notion from some (hearing) people that I need help when I don’t and I’m perfectly fine. So I understood Jack’s quick reaction.
    *spoiler alert*
    Neytiri was the one who defeated the military guy (I don’t remember his name) and killed him. That one took me by surprise and I liked it. It was her who trained a Marine, a GUY, to become a Na’vi warrior. I liked that. Neytiri was also the one who picked up a handicapped, dying Jack in her arms and cradled him. I thought that was such a powerful, moving scene.

  • MiriamCT1

    I suspect that reading about this movie is way more enjoyable then actually seeing it. Lots of people have told me how fantastic this movie is, but I don’t buy it. Three hours long? Pleeeze, I can’t afford that much babysitting. It’s just Dances with Wolves anyway.
    One question for anyone who has seen it…does it really pass the Bechdel test? Someone told me it did, but then I read this:
    http://bechdel.nullium.net/view/582/avatar/
    (Bechdel test: 1. It has to have at least two women in it 2. Who talk to each other
    3. About something besides a man)

  • sall

    Great analysis. I was really, really bothered by some of the “isms” in the film and went searching for critiques written from these perspectives without much luck, so thank you.
    A few words on Sam Worthington, just so people don’t write him off by association with this problematic first huge role… I was fortunate to have had acting lessons with him years ago and he is truly brilliant, hard-working and one of the most authentic people you could ever hope to meet. Check out his interviews, you’ll see what I mean.
    He said his favourite acting students were children because they perform bravely without the assumptions, expectations and prejudices society has placed on adults, or something like that.

  • Phenicks

    I think I was one of many POC who got pissed everytime someone swore up and down the illiterate, gold tooth wearing mini robots on Transformers 3 were a representation of POC, specifically black people. That was some of the most insulting ish ever. Although I’m of mixed race the black half saw no resemblence and was not amused, AT ALL.
    I imagine there is a group of natives somewhere asking why the hell does everyone think they are blue, with cat eyes and hair with tentacles at the end that binds with animals, trees and the planet itself. Or is it like the one drop rule where if you are living in tribes REGARDLESS of your culture, REGARDLESS of your language, REGARDLESS of your skin color, REGARDLESS of your species for crying out loud or even the PLANET/MOON you’re on- you’re *just* like all other indigenous people. They used weapons made from the resources they had around them. They were living in a rain forest type of atmosphere and didn’t require much clothes. They usually wore their feathers when they were GASP HUNTING on their bird-like pets and also wore visors. They were called savages but mourned the loss of EVERY living thing even when it was for their consumption or defense and tried their hardest to save as many living creatures as they could.

  • Siona

    Did we see the same movie?
    I will agree that the ableism and racism was annoying. James Cameron is known for his KABLAM style of visuals, not his plotting, and I’d be perfectly happy if he stayed with that.
    But here:
    “Of course, Jake ends up having sex with Neytiri, and when his duplicity is revealed, their mating is treated as an ultimate insult– the human obsession with virtue and virginity seems to manifest here, as not only Neytiri, but also other Na’vi, become angry at Jake for mating with her. Sex-shaming ensues.”
    I don’t think I quite agree here. The anger seems to come from two sources in that scene: A) because she was ‘promised’ to the other male in what is implied to be an arranged marriage and she broke tradition with a half-human Avatar and B) after Jake revealed that he had been an agent of the military all along, I think it was natural for Neytiri to be insulted; from her perspective, she had been betrayed and used by someone who she had trusted and taught only to have them revealed as a spy. It’s said repeatedly that in their race (or, at least, this tribe) that they mate for life. Whether or not that’s just culture or a biological imperative isn’t said, but isn’t wasn’t the sex that seemed to be shamed on, but the ‘marriage’ of sorts with a traitor.
    “After being shot, head scientist Sigourney Weaver was stripped, carried to the base of a tree, draped in leaves, and positioned to display her curves and her milky-white skin while dying.”
    And I saw it more as a visual symbolization that she was being reborn; the Avatar body she had was naked as well, and both were curled up in a fetal position from what I recall. Did they have to be naked? Eh, don’t think so, though you had the ‘nerves’ from the ground connecting to them through their skin so I guess that could explain it. But, at the same time, it also seemed to be mainly at their brain stems so that could have been worked differently.
    The movie has alot of good points and bad points, but this is just what I thought. *shrug*

  • mordred1988

    I think your blackface comment was way off base. The Na’vi adding war paint to an allies ship and body has nothing to do with blackface and is a war tradition in many cultures. And her respecting that part of their culture is insulting? Why do you assume that she painted it herself thinking “wow, what pretty colors?” I feel like you might have been looking for something to fault in that particular section.
    Also, I did not think that anyone was sex shaming Neytiri. He lied to her. She made it clear that the Na’vi mate for life and then he mated with her and left. That is why she was angry and the Na’vi backed her up.
    Anyway, good article but I think you may have been searching for any reason to be pissed. Save that for Twilight. (laughs)

  • ScottRock

    When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?
    Never?
    I don’t see how it’s terribly surprising that Avatar is another white guilt fantasy, considering that western science fiction, as a genre, is one protracted hot literary mess of white guilt. It’s the direct descendant of European colonial literature, and most of the common tropes within the genre–the outsider narrative, the power dynamic between humans and aliens, the use of aliens as analogues for contemporary issues–are all cues taken from colonial literature. It’s the same narrative, because the majority of science fiction lit consists of rehashed depictions of colonialism from the only perspective European literature is entitled to: the perspective of oppressor.
    Is there a problem with this? I don’t think so, aside from Newitz’ observation that listening to whites talk about their whiteness is just plain tiresome. This is, after all, the white experience–having to deal with one’s identity as an agent of change and destruction. The distinction is in the small things, in the transition from white power fantasies to white guilt fantasies.
    It’s more than a little dismissive to brush off stories solely on their identity as a particular type of narrative. In most cases they’re a reflection of the society in which they’re produced, and this aspect was obviously lost on Newitz in her comparison of Avatar to District 9. Avatar is a stock colonial narrative–the exploitation of natives for natural resources–with distinctly American overtones. But District 9 was of a pretty different nature, as an overt reflection of the Apartheid state, written and directed by a white South African. Newitz doesn’t seem to recognize them both as anything other than competing white guilt fantasies, which is sloppy criticism at best. The value of science fiction lies in the nuance, since the overarching narrative structure cannot be easily changed.
    Newitz asks when whites will “start thinking about race in a new way.” That’s a fool’s errand. It’s their perspective–that of privilege. The last thing we need are ranks of white filmmakers in Hollywood playing Let’s Pretend To Be An Oppressed Minority. I really don’t think Cameron, or most of Hollywood, could effectively pull this off. This is not to say it’s an impossible task for a privileged individual to talk candidly and effectively about the situation of the oppressed (Johnathan Kaplan and The Accused, for instance). But while i don’t really like hearing white filmmakers talk about their privilege, i’d much rather grin and bear it than suffer from white filmmakers pretending to be something they’re not.
    As for the rest, i totally agree. The ableism is off the damn charts in the film, as is the crazy sexualization of, well, just about everything.

  • Ariel

    Haha what a great test!
    It actually barely passes the test- it shows Sigourney Weaver speaking to the Na’vi woman tribal leader, and that leader speaking to Neytiri, but we never hear what they speak about. And Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez never speak to each other, either. So… no.

  • Ariel

    The sex-shaming I’m thinking of, though, isn’t from Neytiri– it’s from when the rest of the tribe, including the older male and female leaders, become enraged when they hear that the two of them mated. And suddenly, it becomes an issue of not just duplicity, but the taking of their daughter’s virtue– that’s where I saw it. Of course Neytiri has a right to be furious.

  • CS

    A true analogy that reflects the human race as a colonizing power would include more actors of color.
    This doesn’t make sense if you view the movie in the context of European colonization. If the director was trying to display the ideology and racism inherit in (European) colonization, then it makes sense to include white actors. Historically, race was central to the issue. In any case, there weren’t that many human actors so it might not have been intentional.
    But the problem with Avatar’s white guilt fantasy is the same that manifests itself on an individual’s path to white allyship: in Pandora, it is inherently the humans, the free, who come to help the oppressed, the Na’vi.
    I think part of Cameron’s art is creating the association with the non-human characters. This isn’t new (Dances with Wolves, Last of the Sumurai) but I don’t think it can be characterized as a white guilt fantasy. Rather, we are shown ourselves from another perspective and I don’t think the emotion is guilt (it might have been if this had actually been Native Americans). I do agree that it would have made a better statement if a human hadn’t led the “tribes” but I still think the change of perspective is positive. What is any kind of prejudice or hatred but an inability to change perspective?
    The underlying theme is that his human body is inadequate; instead, he achieves some type of salvation by entering his new body.
    Na’vi bodies themselves sent an interesting message: standing nine feet tall, lean, with long legs, no hips, and small breasts among the women
    This is a common theme in literature: the body is primal and weights our spirits with sin. It is the source of our suffering on earth. I interpreted the movie along these lines, especially the avatar machine. Here it seems that the “avatar” is the body (human or otherwise), a clothing of the spirit. The machine essentially allowed the humans to transcend the material essence of themselves and take another “avatar”. Accordingly, what is important is the spirit, not the body and in this the two races are not as different as their bodies might suggest. Actually, I think this line of thinking is the ultimate expression of feminism.
    Following this, there is a stark contrast between the weight-lifting scarred marine colonel and the native body. The colonel’s character is one fundamentally adverse to the world. He has been harmed by it and it has effected him and his body. In his view, the world is dangerous and needs to be conquered. Strength and ruthlessness are his virtues and the results of his past treatment. Peace, compatibility and co-existence are weaknesses. His body is a tank which he wields to gain and execute power. As he combats the Na’vi and enters their world, he must don even more armor. He is in the imperial model.
    In direct contrast, Na’vi bodies are almost not there. They are not earth colored, but sky colored. They are agile, quick and adapted to the world their bodies inhabit. Following the line above, they are almost pure expressions of spirit, not weighted. They interface directly with the world (the trees, the animals) and they are not motivated by power. The movie expressly said that the humans had nothing they wanted (in direct comparison to the justifications for European imperialism).
    they reflect components of the impossible body type projected on women in America
    You overlook the fact that the men were similarly portrayed. Also, the human women in the film looked relatively normal to me.
    Though dark-skinned, the Na’vi had light-colored eyes, another touch of the “exotic” and desirable. The underlying theme of this sexualization accompanied the main female Na’vi character, Neytiri, the daughter of the Chief, who spoke with an accent and wore beads in her hair, and donned few clothes.
    I agree that it would have been nicer if the Na’vi weren’t divided into male and female. Perhaps Cameron’s remark about the female lead “needing tits” is a cynical comment on the ability of audiences to connect to an on-screen relationship only in terms of male and female. Again, however, the differences between the male and female body among the Na’vi weren’t that stark. Both had large, “exotic” eyes (a technique which is used a lot in anime). This connects with the theme above: eyes are the windows of the soul. The relative lack of clothing is again an extension of the theme: the body is an avatar and weight of the soul and the Na’vi are thus more pure expressions of spirit and don’t feel the need to hide themselves from one another.
    Jake ends up having sex with Neytiri, and when his duplicity is revealed, their mating is treated as an ultimate insult– the human obsession with virtue and virginity seems to manifest here, as not only Neytiri, but also other Na’vi, become angry at Jake for mating with her
    You might say that the sex was implied but it definitely wasn’t blatant. Also, what happened in the movie wasn’t characterized as sex, but rather “bonding” which I took to be much more significant than pure sex. I got the sense that what was at stake was a life-long, spiritual connection. The physical aspect of it was almost non-existent.
    After being shot, head scientist Sigourney Weaver was stripped, carried to the base of a tree, draped in leaves, and positioned to display her curves and her milky-white skin while dying
    I interpreted that as completely vulnerable and fetal position, one which showed the complete insignificance and vulnerability of her body. Following the theme again, compare that image with the portrayal of the marine bodies: encased in armor, muscled and armed. All efforts to become something completely opposite of what they are at death: naked before nature.
    Perhaps the one empowering woman character
    What makes this different from doing modern-day racial justice work in blackface? The attempt to imitate the Na’vi culture is insulting at best.
    You will have to indicate what you mean by “empowering”. I think all of the characters in the film were empowered, in the sense that they executed their own will (even the Na’vi against human occupation). I wouldn’t characterize her actions as imitation either: she died in service to their cause, thats not imitation, thats solidarity.

  • Monica

    I think that was well said Scott.

  • 43t9fisldjfdsfqo9rg3

    This defense of James Cameron annoys me, as does the cliché “strong woman” or “strong female”. Being a “bad ass” is to be a champion of masculinity, meaning that, in the name of feminism, we’re praising these female characters for being closer to what society supposes to be an ideal man. They’ve put away their shiny and trivial feminine affectations to get serious and REALLY solve problems with a gun and a cigarette, because men get shit done, damn it. Through subversion and stereotype, it reinforces the poisonous notion of maleness as an inherent paragon of strength.
    Weaver’s characters in Aliens (but not Alien, in my opinion) and Avatar are anti-feminist because they say the way to strength, for women, is to well, KICK SOME ASS, broseph. Just because the sex of the stereotype has changed doesn’t make the stereotype any more sensible, praiseworthy, or rooted in reality. Strength and resiliency are able to manifest themselves in ways that don’t require a fucking gun or a masculine modus operandi. “Why isn’t my wife like that?” say my coworkers.

  • Phenicks

    Thats because the tribe KNEW that he was simply an Avatar and if you recall when Neytiri first met Jake she was going to kill him. As in its perfectly reasonable to think that at some point her choice in a mate from the pool she had to choose from was Tsu (I can’t think of the rest of his name). But after she had spent more time with Jake and they started falling for each other she chose him and hoped he’d chosen her too. When it was revealed they’d mated, it was ALSO revealed that he was a spy. This wasn’t done in two separate scenes.

  • timothy_nakayama

    But how do you know that the Navi’s are enraged because of the taking of Neytari’s virtue and not because of the 2 points that Siona has stated:
    (1) Jake is not a real Navi – He’s a half-human Avatar – (he is even called an abomination/alien) several times.
    (2) Neytari appears to be have been due to wed the male Navi (forgot his name) who would go on to become the chieftain of the Hometree tribe.
    For all we know, the Navi could be a society that encourages sex between unmarried Navi. But because Jake is an alien (imagine how humans would feel if a single human had sex with a Martian, and if the Martians were being aggressive in colonizing Earth and digging up resources)and Neytari was supposed to be eventually married to the male Navi who would be Chieftain (this could be a tradition since the Age of Light)….
    We simply don’t have enough information about Navi culture from the movie to be able to say that they sex-shame like humans would do…

  • Ben

    A comment about your comment that the Na’vi spoke with accents – the producers of the film actually had a fully-fledged language developed for the Na’vi to speak. I read up on it a bit before I saw the film (I’m a linguist and an all around language geek) and the manner in which the Na’vi spoke English in the film was remarkably well done – it matched very closely the phonology of the language constructed for the film. A foreign accent is essentially an adaptation of the phonology of one’s native language onto English. The accents present no more exoticize the Na’vi any more than having them have their own language (which I believe is significantly better than having them just speak English).
    One point I found a bit odd was that every one of the Na’vi was played by actors of African descent, except for one, the elder, who was played by an actor of Cherokee descent. Interpret as you will…

  • asseenontv

    I haven’t seen yet, but it seems to have a pretty good message.
    You can do a lot worse. For example a lot of pop culture sides with imperialists, racists, and oppressors and this movie sides against them. It is told from the perspective of someone on the wrong side who opens their eyes. This of course makes him the protagonist (who is a hero in this kind of movie), but the up shot of this is the ability to speak to well-to-do Americans and get them to do the right thing.
    Also, the female love interest has blue skin. So that seems to push against all traditional standards of beauty.

  • Kathleen Hagerty

    Okay, but remember that we’re working within the framework of an action movie, which, at its most basic, features a struggle between protagonist and antagonist. No matter what kind of action film, there will be conflict, and due to the nature of the storyline, the conflict will most likely be physical. Typically, the roles of protagonist and antagonist in an action flick would both be cast male: think of most comic book-cum-movie scenarios, the character of Catwoman and certain X-Men (and women) excluded. Is it relevant then that Cameron chooses to write these roles female? If you’re an actress in Hollywood, especially in the late 70’s when Alien was made, you bet your bottom dollar it is.
    Moreover, the characters in Avatar were not champions of masculinity. Weaver’s and Rodriguez’s characters were women in a male dominated landscape and they found themselves working with and at times against men. They didn’t “kick ass” until they had something vital to fight for. Notice that when Weaver’s Grace had her big conflict scene with Giovanni Ribisi’s character, she didn’t haul off and punch him in the jaw. No, she talked sense to him, even though he wouldn’t listen.
    Further, I’m bothered by this concept that a woman wouldn’t pick up a gun and smoke a cigarette… why the heck not? Why is that potential facet of a woman’s personhood considered “unfeminine?” Isn’t the assumption that women should talk out their feelings sensibly just a sexist cliche as well? Not all women, I’m telling you, are sensible. And if someone was about to wipe out an entire population of people, I would be worried if those women hadn’t picked up a gun and started shooting. This film depicts people in extraordinary moments of stress, in which they will do things out of desperation. This isn’t “suze goes to the grocery store to pick up some milk.” This is “holy crap, some asshole’s burning down my city.” Action films require a bit of ostentatious violence. That’s the genre. That’s the action justified in the narrative.

  • Kathleen Hagerty

    There are quite a few films that one would consider feministically sound that don’t pass this test: Kramer vs. Kramer, Annie Hall, The African Queen, for example.
    As far as I’m concerned, all a role needs is to be multi-demensional. Give the woman a character well drawn enough to explore as a full person, and that character will not be a sexist characature.

  • Unequivocal

    Hm. I’m not saying I disagree with you, but I would be interested in hearing how, for example, you think the Ripley character in Alien should have been played in order to be a strong woman who doesn’t play into the stereotype of strength=masculinity.

  • SnrkyFeminist

    I actually really disagree with this review of the movie. I went to see Avatar with my wonderfully feminist mom, who I constantly have discussions with about the female dis-empowerment of hollywood. And we REALLY enjoyed this movie, because of the egalitarian roles of both male and female characters. The women are hunters, they are teachers, the deity the Na’vi worship is a female, as is the spiritual leader of the tribe. It rocked.
    While the main female character is “scantily clad,” so are the MALE Na’vis! There is even a scene where Jake’s Avatar is pulling is little g-string thingy out of his blue butt. “Sex shaming”? Like the other commenters have stated, the issue was Jake’s deception, not her “loss of virginity.” Which, by the way, wasn’t really ‘sex,’ it was a union between them the same way the Na’vi form unions between their chosen animals and the land.
    Why the negative reaction to the nudity of Sigourney Weaver? I’m confused why the symbolism of the attempt to save her life through the power of the land and the people is lost, or somehow unclean? Why? What’s wrong with nudity??? Jake was nude at the end too, when the same process was performed on him…
    I thought this was a great movie, and I appreciated the egalitarianism presented. To each her own, but I simply disagree with the analysis!

  • sammylif

    I liked reading this analysis because I didn’t think of a lot of these points at all.
    But I don’t know, I still think the good outweigh the problematic. Besides being stunning and engaging and political, I loved Neytiri and Sigourney’s characters a lot. And yea, I think “strong female” is something to celebrate, despite the second commentor’s opinion…Maybe by the viewer automatically saying “strong female = masculinity,” we too are buying into those social norms? Or at least either way, I’m glad to see those strong female leads; they’re pretty hard to come by. And that comment doesn’t really hold up about Neytiri anyway.
    I liked it 100 times more than I thought I would, and I left the theater feeling physically tired from being so seriously engaged. It was cool.

  • opinionated

    MiriamCT1,
    this is a film to see in 3D.
    It’s a phenomenon in that the production designers created a world, complete with unique animals and plant life.
    They hired a prof from USC who created a new language for the N’avi.
    The connection to land, plant and animal life with the indigenous is beautifully represented.
    While it is still a film made from a white males perspective, it is a white male who was married to one of the greatest female producers ever to hit the Hollywood scene, let alone action films (character driven). She has a cultural anth. masters and I believe that influenced him to represent indigenous cultural, spiritual, energetic and ancestral practices well. Yes, they used actual illumination to demonstrate the energetic life those of us who are in tune see naturally, but, I really appreciated the way it was demonstrated and hope it sinks into the psyche of it’s viewers.
    Thousands of men and women were employed for the creation of this visually brilliant film.
    It’s worth seeing on the big screen in 3D, I wouldn’t wait for the DVD on this one.

  • TD

    Whats more, painting the ship and the person in a unique manner has incredibly important tactical implications. How else are they going to distinguish the one friendly ship from the thirty or so hostile ones. The pilot needs to be similarly identified in case she becomes separated from ship.

  • RebeccaK

    I don’t agree with the analysis. First, I don’t see this film as a comment on the conquering of the New World. I see it as a comment on what has been going on throughout history and the underlying motives of our current wars. Maybe I’m too simplistic, but aren’t we at war over finite resources on the planet (water, oil, gold, etc.)? Aren’t the Chinese building a pipeline through the Sudan? Isn’t this why there has been a battle in Afghanistan for decades? I think this is a great topic for Cameron to bring to light, as most folks don’t see the world battles at all in these terms. If we continue on our present course, it will not surprise me if we’re perusing space for more resources to take and exploit.
    The Na’Vi are cast as more connected to their world and the nature of life. The miners/military/corporations on the other hand are void of this. I don’t mind that Cameron makes a caricature of these two poles, which is a fine move to illustrate the story.
    From my perspective, the Na’Vi appeared to me to be a mix of peoples. I even recognized Hindu deities (ever seen images of Krishna?). I remember seeing a range of faces among the humans. I thought it was interesting to see a Dominican woman on the military side (Michelle Rodriguez) and another Dominican women (Zoe Saldana) on the other, especially since our family has those roots.
    The folks in power come in many colors these days. It’s a global network. It may take people from within to be whistleblowers to their madness, as Jake was. The guy was a laborer for the corporations, whose veteran health care didn’t cover the cost of his legs, not the face of power and privilege the writer seems to paint.
    Finally, I enjoyed the negotiated relationship that occurred between the two main characters.
    I thought it was a brilliant film and commend Mr. Cameron for pursuing a vision and dream for many years, for talking about a pertinent topic, while changing the visual course of film.

  • Zenon Receives

    I wanted to mention three points, that I don’t agree with in the current discussion:
    “Na’vi bodies themselves sent an interesting message: standing nine feet tall, lean, with long legs, no hips, and small breasts among the women, they reflect components of the impossible body type projected on women in America.”
    What? Since when do “small breast” do conform the idealized American female body type? (….and nine feet tall?^^)
    “we learn that his disability can be “cured” with a costly surgery”
    I find the quotation marks in this place a bit cynical.
    I’m pretty sure, that someone who loses his legs by accident or illness (instead of being born that way), just FEELS disabled and damaged (at least in the first time) and has the right to long for/choose a cure (if this is possible) instead of just accepting the new situation and making the best of it.
    Without meaning, that all “disabled” people lead a life in missery and suffering.
    “It also became apparent that the invading scientists and military personnel were not just similar to the implied historic white colonial rule, but were, in fact, almost entirely white actors.”
    That’s funny. While watching the scenes, where the colonel instructs his soldiers, I had critical thoughts about the very high number of latin and black men and women among them. I wondered, if the director aimed a more dangerous impression of that army through this.
    For the rest I found ALL of the featured female characters cool and empowering.
    (I hope, this is all understandable, English’s not my mother tongue)