9 responses to “Guest Post: Future of Portrayals of Disability in Movies? Cameron’s Avatar

  1. Nonny

    I haven’t seen Avatar yet, but I’ve been following the news from it, as I’m not adverse to spoilers. From what I’ve read, I don’t think the Commander’s attitude would bother me as much, because it seems in-character with other actions and statements that have been attributed. I think fear may come into play there, too, because for a character so stereotypically macho military as Quaritch, losing the use of his legs may well be the thing he fears the most, even more than loss of life. Some people’s reactions to fear are aggression and derision. This is not to say that I agree with the character’s statements, because I certainly do not, but that in context I can see the motivation and psychology behind.

    However, I’m a writer, and I strongly believe in staying true to character, even if the character is a despicable jackass. 😉

    I think disabilities appear more in SF/F because it’s trivial to “cure” the disability through magic or advanced/alien technology. Deus ex machina, much? It’s certainly not a fair portrayal, because as much as I might wish for a body that isn’t in chronic pain, no aliens are going to come down from the sky and give me that. Featuring a disabled character that becomes undisabled is not diverse; it’s exclusionary.

  2. phoquess

    Very useful post. I haven’t seen Avatar and I’m not planning on it, but I am working on a novel which incorporates disability and this gives me some thoughts on how I can handle it. It is science-fiction/fantasy (both at once) but I’m trying to use the setting to explore how medicine and thoughts on disability change with different circumstances. Food for thought. Thank you.

  3. thetroubleis

    Yes, thank you.

    I’m writing a novel as well, just for fun, where the female main character is was born without a right hand. It isn’t a huge plot point, just part of her character, but as I don’t have psychical disabilities, I want to do this right. You’ve given me a lot to think on.

  4. Sasha_feather

    This post has been included in a linkspam at Access_Fandom. Thank you!

  5. Alex

    Thanks for the write-up!

    Just a small point, having seen the movie last night… the “real legs” comment from the commander refers to Jake’s alien body. Jake has been running around in his Na’vi body, and the commander is reminding him that his human legs – his *real* legs – can be “fixed”. Still problematic, obviously, just a tiny bit less so?

  6. Anna

    No, it doesn’t, because the whole point about getting “fixed” is still there.

  7. meloukhia

    Yes, I don’t understand why people keep bringing this point up. Este clearly states in this post that it’s about the presentation of the film and how it’s promoted, not about the details of the film itself. And yet, people keep barging in with variations on this comment.

    No. It’s not ok. Whether we are talking about an Avatar or a person, in either case, the statement carries the implication that Jake Sully’s legs are “fake” (they are obviously not), and bad. If Jake Sully was an able character, other characters wouldn’t be telling him he can “get his real legs back.” This is a statement rooted in Jake’s disability, and consequently in ableism, people.

  8. Nonny

    The statements are not okay, but they are realistic for the character types portrayed. Having seen the movie, while certain statements and attitudes bothered me (I was seeing red at some of the disparaging comments towards Jake in the first few scenes), I don’t think the story would have worked as well if all of that had been removed. I do wish they had dealt more with the issue of his disability, because it was Big in the first part of the movie and then disappeared nearly entirely in the latter part of the movie. I wish there had been at least some commentary on it by Sully, because given his internal character conflict, that was HUGE.

    I do have an issue with promotion of this movie as being uber-supportive of disability, because it’s not. I don’t especially have an issue with Jake’s character, aside from what I mentioned above, because he’s obviously still at a point of coming to terms with his disability. Hell, I’m at a point of mine where I’d take the same offer. But disability is not the focus of the movie. It’s — hm. It’s more like a tertiary subplot. It’s not very effectively dealt with or addressed, nor are the other character’s reactions supportive in any way.

    It’s not a movie about disability. It’s a movie following the “disabled character who becomes magically cured” trope, and it shouldn’t be portrayed as anything else.

  9. Colier Rannd

    FYI this post will contain spoilers for James Cameron’s “Avatar”, “Dark Angel” and the WB’s “Birds of Prey”.

    I’ve used a wheelchair for close to 30 years and in all that time I’ve very, very rarely been offended at almost anything to do with portrayals of the disabled or even jokes about the disabled. My motto has always been that as long as it’s somewhat original and funny you should be able to joke about almost anything. I’m much more offended by unfunny cripple jokes than the cripple part.

    Cameron managed to offend me with “Avatar”. It offended me that Jake is portrayed as being less than human because he’s disabled. Sure, he can be of use to his people and the military he loves but only if he is put into this able body. Throughout the movie it’s espoused that he should want to walk again.The Naavi do nothing but preach how it’s what’s on the inside that counts. But in the final climatic battle Jake is woken up and tossed out of his chamber thingy-magig (sorry to get all technical :) ) and you’re thinking he might be able to defeat his enemy with his real body and not the artificial alien one! Alas, his Naavi girlfriend comes along to snatch that victory from him and save the poor defenseless wheelchair guy. Oh and in order for him to have a happy life, he’s put into the body permanently in the end. Because how could he be happy otherwise, right?

    This is not the first time Cameron has done this. In the 2000 tv show “Dark Angel” there was a character who was paralyzed from the waste down. Clearly the lead character (played by Jessica Alba) and he were on the road to a romance but to make it palatable he was cured. How grand right? I remember having discussions at the time with people who really did believe that he would have to be cured to have a realistic romance with her.

    Over at DC Comics there is a character named Oracle. She is actually Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl. In the story “The Killing Joke”, written by the great Alan Moore, she is shot in the spine by the Joker. Babs beinlg Babs, she learned the martial art of Escrima and put her computer skills to use as an data broker and supplier to superheroes. Her Escrima training came in very handy in the story line “The Hunt For Oracle”. No spoilers on that but if I were you I’d go find it. She proves she is not a pitiful person that’s for sure.

    But in the early 2000’s WB launched a show called “Birds of Prey”, based on the comic that starred Oracle and Black Canary. After it was canceled I was told by Paul Dini himself that the producers were never sure what they wanted to do with any aspect of the show so the mess it was was inevitable.

    In the show Babs has a recurring dream of getting out of the chair and walking again. In fact, she even builds a new Batgirl suit that is designed to support her legs and spine. It’s a major plot point. Because, again, how can anyone be happy with using a wheelchair?

    I’ve talked to many DC fans who claim that she should be cured in the comics because magic exists and such. I of course disagree.

    My hope is that someone, someday will make a wheelchair users a bona fide action hero. I don’t see any reason why not (again read “The Hunt for Oracle” it’s available as a tpb). My hope was that Cameron might actually be the one to do it. It’s a shame that he didn’t.

    And shame on Hollywood for rewarding such a blatant piece of bigoted drek. If Jake had had to change his skin color from black to white, there would be no Oscar nomination, I guarantee it.