Monday, January 11, 2010

Is Avatar Racist?

Liberal Racism in Movies Has Been Around Since Tarzan.
By Michael P. Tremoglie
Tremoglie's Tea Time Blog

Is the record setting movie by writer/director James Cameron, "Avatar," racist?

According to the AP, some think so. Avatar is said by some to contain racist ideas. Why? Because a white hero saves the natives - people of a different skin color.

Although, I haven't seen the movie, from what I have read about it, this seems plausible. Avatar seems to be propagating the same liberal racism that has existed in movies for years. From what I have observed this has been the case since at least the Tarzan movies of the 1930's. Indeed, that is why I call it "The Tarzan Syndrome."

The Avatar movie seems to be very much like the old Tarzan movies. The Avatar protagonist is like Tarzan. Tarzan is a white man who protects the blacks from the evil white supremacists who come to exploit the African native's land and people. (It was a perfect metaphor for the white abolitionists in the American South after the Civil War.)

Avatar's hero, a white man, protects the blue skinned natives from white industrialists. They are trying to exploit the land and people as well.

So Cameron, isn't trodding new ground here.

This, after all, is how liberals see themselves. They think they're more enlightened on racial and humanitarian issues then the average white person - the rest of us - who are essentially benighted, ignorant racists.

Cameron probably doesn't realize he is doing this. He is a liberal. His movies contain liberal stereotypes.

His other blockbuster, "Titanic," was rife with antiquated liberal stereotypes. There were the obligatory classist scenes of wealthy and privileged people saving themselves at the expense of the poor classes.

It didn't matter to Cameron that some of the wealthiest people in the world were killed on the Titanic. It also didn't matter that according to the data - and to a board of inquiry - there was no evidence that poorer people were kept from abandoning the ship.

However, demonizing wealthy people sells more movie tickets than telling the truth. Besides, it comports with limousine liberal worldview.

Returning to Cameron's Avatar, according the AP, "Since the film opened to widespread critical acclaim three weeks ago, hundreds of blog posts, newspaper articles, tweets and YouTube videos have made claims such as that the film is "a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people" and reinforces "the white Messiah fable."

The AP cites Anna lee Newts, editor-in-chief of the sci-fi Web site, comparing "Avatar" to the recent films in which a white men become alien Messiahs.

The AP quotes Newts, who is white, as writing, "Main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color ... (then) go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed...When will whites stop making these movies and start thinking about race in a new way?"

Writer/director Cameron, who is white, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that his film "asks us to open our eyes and truly see others, respecting them even though they are different, in the hope that we may find a way to prevent conflict and live more harmoniously on this world. I hardly think that is a racist message."

Mr. Cameron, you can't see the forest because of the trees.

1 comment:

  1. So true. But a few things come to mind. Foremost, that the movie was a two-hour video game for underdeveloped adults (and the cultural analysis probably hits a brick wall here). Second, that the story is kind of just a plot vehicle marketed for our times (resonances of Iraq-war politics). The plot has been used a hundred times before; Costner's "Dances with Wolves" always springs to mind. From a marketing angle, it is to Cameron's savviness to have toyed with popular political identities in order to generate nontraversy around his movie---its basically free advertising for a two hour children's movie. The the racism of the allegory is surely there, but in a way its just superficial. It's just the commodity that was needed to further the movie's marketing campaign.

    The most offensive thing about the movie (missed by liberals and conservatives alike) is that it propagates the highly consumerist ideology of parasitically taking someone else's identity, or assuming an identity that isn't really one's own. The thing about these becoming-the-other allegories is that they almost always co-opt the other and erase "the other" entirely---that is their function for a consumerist society, afterall, because "the other" is really just a symbol of a consumer society's perpetual sense of inauthenticity.