Search Results for: avatar

A Difference in Perspective: Experiencing Avatar Exceeds the Marketing

We recently took a family excursion to the theatre in Seoul to see Avatar (and we can discuss our decision to take The Kid to see it another time, as in, not at all). I thought I would suck it up and see it as a service to the rest of the team here at FWD so that I could write an honest review from the perspective of someone who has been sheltered from the marketing of the movie. You can thank my language barrier and the reluctance of Hulu to stream in our country. Wev. As you may know, the marketing of the movie and views put forth by some of the actors kicked out some seriously ableist themes. After reading this transcript of the interview with the lead actor I was prepared to not like the movie at all because of the Bad Cripple message that I got from that video, the caricature of the disgruntled former Marine, and a lot of the other tropes that were chucked out there in a lot of the reviews. In fairness, I tried to not read a lot of them so that I would come into this review with a clear mind.

I was completely prepared to hate this movie.

I pretty much surprised myself and enjoyed some parts of it. Or the parts that I feel were realistically portrayed.

That is not to say that most of this movie was a big pile of fail from a feminist perspective.

To be fair off the top: This movie is pretty fucking racist. But guess what?

This is not the first time this story has been told with this theme, so I consider myself kind of inoculated to it at this point. By the time I had seen Dances With Wolves, Pocahantas, The Last Samurai, Fern Gully, and several others I am sure could come up on a more comprehensive list, I was used to having the “White Guy meets Native Group of people (and is either supposed to betray them or not), becomes accepted into their culture, and then falls in love with Native Woman or Culture (or both), and ultimately becomes the savior of Native People” movie shoved at me every Award season. Understand me when I say that I am not OK with the implications of this; I am simply becoming numb to the experience and how ingrained it has become.




Despite what I believed going in, Jake Sully was not a disgruntled Marine who believed that he had to get his legs back in order to be a normal human being. He wasn’t seeking the Avatar as a vehicle to deliver this to him; I found his desire to be in the Avatar directly linked to his desire to be with the Na’ Vi people in general, as he had fallen in love with them and the Cheif’s daughter (if this sounds cheesy, don’t blame me. I think Cameron drank some bad milk before writing some of the dialogue). There is one scene where Jake first enters his brother’s Avatar that he excitedly runs about the garden and experiences using legs again… curling his toes in the dirt. I am not a wheelchair user, nor an actor pretending to be one, so I don’t know what it would be like to live in either of these situations. I can imagine that being a veteran, and having your worth tied to your abled body must be an experience that changes the way you view disability.

Jake Sully’s desire for getting his “real legs” back is directly linked to his feelings of self worth as a Marine, and the actual caricature, the Marine Colonel Quaritch, does nothing to make him feel differently, but rather offers to cut red tape with the VA (who apparently is still a shit pile of failure years in the future) in exchange for Sully’s promise to sabotage the Na’ Vi from inside. Jake isn’t the brainy super genius that his twin brother was, who was able to help pioneer the Avatar technology. Sully was only valuable for the parts of his body that the government needed. Before it was his legs that could carry him into combat, and now that those were no longer doing that, I got the feeling that Sully was struggling with what he was supposed to do now. Then, in a brilliant plot device, his amazingly intelligent and never appearing in this film twin brother, conveniently died leaving him to be called up because he has the correct DNA to sync with the avatar. The reality of Jake Sully’s life isn’t that he is an ableist jerk… rather, he has only ever been as good as what his body has to offer to the government. This is reinforced by Doctor Augustine, when she uses a constant barrage of insults against Sully’s mental acumen. He doesn’t measure up to what his twin was capable of.

Jake Sully, is, again, told he is not good enough by the able bodied world.

I don’t view these as the same thing. This isn’t a disgruntled Marine. This is a society that hasn’t learned how to accept a person outside of the standard, and doesn’t yet know how to accept them into their perfect world. Society doesn’t know what to do with a Jake Sully because it doesn’t want to…and why should it? It will just cast him off and get more fresh, able bodies to replace him. He isn’t their problem any more, right?

So, it is easy to paint this movie as ableist. I was ready to cast it aside as such, probably because I already hold James Cameron as a misogynistic douche nozzle and a racist ass hat to boot. I want him to fail at this too. But what he has done here actually impressed me a little (even if the actor’s own words betrayed the sentiment). He managed to show the real pain of a veteran, separated from the only thing that has ever given him a connection to anything useful. He has shown a disabled person living in the actual world…and sadly it still exists in the future.

The rest of the movie, despite being fucking gorgeous, is a pile of tropes waiting to spring forth. Despite decent performances from actors and actresses that I adore (Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi, and Sigorney Weaver), it was cliche. You want bad ass military chick who loves to blow shit up? We got that! (she dies) We have a chief’s daughter who falls incredibly in love with the mysterious outsider! We have the White Guy pretty much slaying the dragon (almost in a literal sense), and the hot warrior chick rides off behind him on its back. I almost choked on my popcorn when I saw him waving a machine gun around in the jungle as he led the natives to battle. How about the tree hugging White woman who wants to preserve the culture of the Natives because they can’t protect themselves (she dies).

All the CG in the world can’t cover up a bunch of “been there, done that” bullshit.

I leave you to your own thoughts.


Avatar: The New York Times Has Found Itself Some Straw Feminists

This is a quick hit, because, really, there’s not too much to say.

I’ve been reading criticisms of Avatar pretty extensively, and I’ve even engaged in a bit of critique discussing the way in which the movie is being promoted to the public, and how the framing of the film in promotional materials reflects social attitudes about disability.

So, when I saw a New York Times article, “You Saw What in ‘Avatar’? Pass Those 3-D Glasses!,” I thought it might be an interesting roundup of critiques surrounding the film. After all, it seems like the media is finally starting to pay attention to discussions from social justice advocates about popular culture, as seen by the flurry of articles about Glee and critiques from disability rights advocates. Could we possibly be starting to have a mainstream discussion?

No. That would be silly, mel! Here’s what the article has to say about the “groups [which] have projected their issues onto ‘Avatar’ (emphasis mine)”:

Over the last month, it has been criticized by social and political conservatives who bristle at its depictions of religion and the use of military force; feminists who feel that the male avatar bodies are stronger and more muscular than their female counterparts; antismoking advocates who object to a character who lights up cigarettes; not to mention fans of Soviet-era Russian science fiction; the Chinese; and the Vatican. (Emphasis mine.)

Yeah, the author just threw together a laundrylist of things with the obvious goal of making them all seem petty and trivial. “Those silly people, not liking Avatar, what’s wrong with them?” Gosh, who would want to be linked with  people who are so obviously oversensitive, I ask you.

There are two problems with this list.

  1. Why aren’t disability-centered critiques included on it? People with disabilities are talking about the movie, surely those of us who don’t like it or don’t like the way in which the film is being promoted should be included on David Itzkoff’s dismissive list of “people who don’t like this movie for no very good reason.”
  2. HOLY STRAW FEMINISTS, BATMAN. Now, I’m not saying I have read every single critique of this movie which has ever been written. But I never saw anything of the kind in any critiques I read, and I couldn’t find anything of the kind when I went on an Internet Treasure Hunt. Did Itzkoff seriously just throw some straw feminists in there to make the list seem even more ludicrous? “See, feminists are criticizing it, that must mean that any critique is trivial.”

What’s really weird about this article is that it admits that great science fiction (which Avatar is purporting to be) is allegorical, while, at the same time, it is tearing down criticisms and discussions about the symbolism of the film. Apparently, allegorical media is for consumption only, not discussion. Quick. Someone alert the media.

Promoting James Cameron’s Avatar: Let’s Talk Jake Sully and Disability

Note: This post is about how James Cameron’s Avatar is being presented and promoted to the public, and about the attitudes cast and crew have to the characters and their presentation. It is not a review of Avatar.

A reader recently sent a tip to Anna about a video on Hulu, a short interview with Sam Worthington, who plays Jake Sully on Avatar. Because Anna’s in Canada and Hulu hates Canadians, she passed it on to me to check out. Here’s a link to the video (not viewable outside the United States, I am sorry to say).

And here’s a transcript:

Screen flashes with an “in character with” graphic reading “Sam Worthington as Jake Sully”

Screen cuts to a video of Worthington’s upper body against a backdrop of primordial trees overlaid with the text “Avatar.”

Worthington: “My name is Sam Worthington, and I play Jake Sully.”

As Worthington narrates, cuts from the movie are shown.

“Jake’s a former Marine who’s disabled, he doesn’t think he’s got a disability, the people that tell you what you can and can’t do, they’ve got the disability” Worthington says, and an image of Jake, inside what appears to be an aircraft, appears. Jake is pulling himself into a bright yellow wheelchair. In the next shot, we see Jake wheeling himself out of the aircraft and navigating through a busy airfield filled with people and various aircraft.

The scene transitions to images of Jake moving through a research facility with lots of blue light (a James Cameron trademark).

“And he gets the opportunity,” the voiceover continues, “to go into a remote controlled body, a 10 foot tall species on an intergalactic planet.” We are shown an image of what could best be described as a 10 foot tall bipedal blue cat floating in a tank.

In the next shot, an action shot, Jake, inside the Avatar body, is leaping out of a helicopter brandishing a large gun.

The clip continues with a character from the movie, a very muscular man with tightcropped blonde hair and a very military appearance, saying “a Marine in an Avatar body,” while strapping himself into a device which has an unclear function. “That’s a potent mix,” the character continues.

Worthington: [back against the backdrop seen at the start of the clip] “Yeah, it’s fun to play that, because he’s got the two journeys, he’s bringing himself up and kinda like a strong person when he’s in his remote-controlled body,” as clips from the movie showing Jake lying on a table in his human body, and then standing at night in a forest in his Avatar, are shown. “But then when he’s in his normal body,” Worthington continues, as a clip of Jake struggling to transfer from a treatment table in the research facility to his wheelchair plays, “life is, it’s heartbreaking.”

“You get me what I need, I’ll see to it you get your legs back,” says the blonde character from earlier in the clip.

“Hell yeah, sir,” Jake says, seated in his wheelchair.

Worthington [over a clip from the movie of Jake wheeling along an aisle]: “First there’s the research that you, you know, have to do. Went and played wheelchair basketball with a group of guys and, you know, they kicked my ass, to be honest.”

Worthinton’s voiceover continues and we are shown video from filing, with crew clustered around the front of the image and actors in the rear center.

“I got in the wheelchair and, uh, you know I would say I was [unintelligible] in the wheelchair pretty quickly ’cause they would bash into us and you realize pretty soon it’s not about the wheelchair, it’s about getting the job done [makes a hand gesture conveying forward motion]. You know, your life doesn’t just cut short just because, you know, that some tragic thing has happened to you. You’ve gotta get up and that’s a true hero, see, we’ve all got the possibility of being a hero inside us, and that means if you get knocked down get back up again. One guy said to me ‘I spend my life always being looked down on,’ and he goes ‘now you can see how strong-willed I am.’ Jake Sully is, he’s looking for summat worth fighting for and to me that’s a, you know, I found it in these guys, you know, they’re saying just keep going man, keep going.”

During this voiceover, the video cuts between clips of Worthington and clips from the movie showing Jake in action, wheeling down hallways, shaking hands with other characters, and riding in a helicopter which swoops through an environment filled with fog and strange floating geological formations, meant to convey a sense of being on an alien planet.

“You wanna keep your [unintelligible] alive, stop listening to her,” we hear a character [possibly Jake, it was hard for me to tell] saying as we are shown another clip from the movie set, a scene in which Jake is seated in his wheelchair talking with the blonde man shown earlier and several other people in military uniforms.

Worthington: “Even though Jake’s in the wheelchair and doesn’t feel sorry, I’m sure he longs to get out and make a difference, but that’s why he goes on the journey in the first place.” As Worthington speaks, we are shown more video from filming, with Jake on the table, surrounded by crew with cameras and microphones.

Worthington continues: “…and, the joy comes back again.” The video shifts to video of Worthington and James Cameron, the director, talking on set. “What I said to Jim, I wanted him, the first time he’s in his remote-controlled body [the video transitions to shots of Jake lying on the table and being strapped in], feeling his legs should feel good, it should feel like an almost unbelievable experience for him.”

A clip is shown from the film, with two people in protective masks and surgical gear leaning in towards the camera. “Jake,” a woman’s voice says, sounding hollow because of her mask, “can you hear me?” The camera moves to the face of Jake, in the Avatar, blinking blearily at the camera while a light is shone in his eyes.

Worthington: “And then when he gets up he realizes that, just like driving a Ferrari for the first time, or a big, you know, 10 wheeled truck [we see the Avatar getting off the table, dressed in a hospital gown, and moving around excitedly; the Avatar’s long tail lashes at various objects in the room and knocks them over], it’s hard to do.” The clip continues with a character saying “You’re not used to your Avatar body, this is dangerous!” Jake-as-Avatar grins wolfishly and says “great.”

Worthington [over a continuation of the clip showing Jake-as-Avatar running out of the medical facility and into lush jungle, skidding on a dirt pathway because he’s running so fast]: “The body’s a bit, you know, useless, he’s still warming it up, but he decides ‘I’m gonna take it for a test drive’ and, uh, you know, the slide was my idea, I thought ‘you know, he’s skidding, he’s using it like a car’ and then Jim said [over a clip of Cameron, Worthington, and crew against a green screen] ‘let’s just keep focusing on the feet, keep playing with it and that it’s a liberating experience to walk again, to run.'”

Another clip from the movie, of Jake-as-Avatar running through the jungle carrying a bow, and taking a flying leap onto the ground from a high cliff. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he says, as he launches himself into space and floats toward the ground.

Worthington: “Also, he’s a hardened Marine, but in my brain I thought ‘if you play it just like that, like a Full Metal Jacket Marine, how will you find a way in, how does a 10 year old kid relate to that?’ They’re the toughest critics. They’re gonna say what they think [over a series of action shots of Jake riding strange and fantastical winged and hooved beasts and darting about in the jungle], you know, they’ll vote with their feet, to me they’re always the barometer [image cuts again to images of Jake back in his human body, being rolled out on a tray and then wheeling up to a large model of the planet’s surface], so I went ‘well why don’t I look at my nephew who is seven, and play Jake Sully like that, give him that essence.’ Also, there’s another thing. It’s, you know, in my, my nephew Ridley , his eyes are open to the world all the time ’cause he’s seven, he’s cheeky, petulant, ah, rebellious, you can’t tell him what to do, and uh, he’s courageous, and I thought ‘now these are great qualities,’ so, you put that in the shell of a hardened Marine and now a 10 year old kid has an action hero that he can relate to.” While he says this, they play more clips from the movie of Jake-as-Avatar in various action shots, including leaping onto a robot, previously seen in shots on the human base, wielding a club.

Clips from the movie continue, with Jake-as-Avatar saying “outstanding,” and Worthington adding “and it sort of relates to the kid in all of us [we see Jake-as-Avatar flying on the back of a giant bird], so, if I’m going to, I’m the eyes or the conduit for the audience to come and go on the journey [back against the backdrop, making a forward-moving motion with his hands], all the time through, everything you’re playing with, touching [we see Jake wheeling down a gangway in some sort of aircraft or structure, and then sticking his hand in a pool of blue gel], touch the goo and go ‘this is cool’ [Jake says “this is cool” as the camera pans back to show more of the room], he’s touching the plants, ‘don’t touch the plants, Jake’ [Jake-as-Avatar is walking through the forest and encounters a field of plants which look rather like complicated desserts, touching them and watching them retract into the ground], he keeps touching the plants, that’s all my nephew, Ridley. [Jake-as-Avatar falls off a horselike animal, and is then shown in an aircraft looking out across the environment of the planet.] You know, thanks to Ridley, it was absolutely fun to play, you know, ’cause he gave me the ticket, he gave me the way in. [More clips from the movie, Jake-as-Avatar at night in the trees, surrounded by glowing critters, which eventually come to rest on his body as he stands still.] To me, that’s how I approached it, quite simply and you know, as simple as that.”

We are shown another clip from the movie, with Jake-as-Avatar on a horselike creature in the middle of a crowd of fierce-looking Na’vi warriors, standing their ground against a large aircraft. Robots are pouring out of the aircraft and a voiceover of Jake as Avatar begins: “They’ve sent us a message, that they can take whatever they want [Na’vi are fighting with bows against flamethrowing weapons], well we will send them a message [Jake-as-Avatar against a glowing purple backdrop, surrounded by several Na’vi, including a translator who is translating his speech], and we will show the Sky People [Na’vi crowds shown cheering] that they CANNOT take whatever they want and that this, this is our land!”

Video cuts to a promotional image of a Na’vi face speckled with bright points of light and shrouded in darkness, as the word “Avatar” comes up on the screen.

I have a lot of thoughts about this clip and about how Worthington views the character of Jake Sully, but I thought I would open the floor to y’all first, and then share my thoughts.

How do you think Worthington thinks about disability, and Sully’s disability in particular?

What do you think that this clip and other promotional materials for Avatar are saying about disability?

If you’ve seen Avatar, do you think that Worthington’s attitudes about disability as seen/heard in this clip play through in the film? Has seeing/listening to this clip/reading the transcript changed the way you think about the film and Jake Sully (whether or not you’ve seen it)?

Guest Post: Future of Portrayals of Disability in Movies? Cameron’s Avatar

Esté Yarmosh has Cerebral Palsy. She holds a B.A. in English from Eastern Connecticut State University and is currently studying for her Master of Arts degree in English at Simmons College. Her previous guest posts are Cerebral Palsy Humor? Not so much and Disability Dismissed

I’m something of a Sci-fi fan, especially when it comes to the literary genre of science fiction. And when I first heard about James Cameron’s new Sci-fi movie Avatar, I was fascinated, and I watched the trailer(s) right away. In some ways, I was blown away by the visuals, particularly the images of the alien planet “Pandora” and the image of the incubation tank of sorts that holds the main character’s alien body. Even the idea of placing your mind in an alien body to do space exploration initially intrigued me. Also, when I read that the protagonist was a wheelchair user, I was interested.

My doubts started forming, however, when I looked more closely at two sources: the movie’s dialogue and the movie’s synopsis. I want to start with the synopsis. Through about the film’s box office numbers, I understand that Avatar is quite popular with audiences. This synopsis contains profoundly ableist language in the way it describes the protagonist Jake as “confined to a wheelchair.” I don’t use a wheelchair; nevertheless, I was very offended when I read that. We’ve been trying to eradicate terms like “confined to a wheelchair” for a while now, and to see this demonstration of ignorance on such a large scale, since it is mainstream, is distressing.

I wonder if the producers or whoever wrote the official synopsis thought that they were being more politically correct by saying “confined to a wheelchair” instead of, say, wheelchair-bound. The fact is they aren’t being PC by declaring Jake is “confined to a wheelchair.” Actually, wheelchair-bound and “confined to a wheelchair” are synonyms and the writer(s) of the synopsis aren’t helping either people with disabilities or the non-disabled population by using that term. I worry a bit because non-disabled people may think through reading this synopsis that referring to someone who uses a wheelchair as “confined to a wheelchair” is okay – but of course, it’s really not — wheelchair user, for instance, is more acceptable. I’ve checked –I know that this synopsis has flooded the Internet and it is most likely people’s main source of information about Avatar.

I also want to take the sentence (from the plot synopsis of Avatar) “Bitter and disillusioned, he’s [Jake] still a warrior at heart” to task. To me, it smacks of disability stereotypes. First, I think the sentence inspires pity in the reader, which is regressive and entrapping for people with disabilities because it signals the endurance of a vicious cycle of stereotyping – in this case, the pitiable cripple. Another stereotype that can be inferred from the sentence is that of the wounded/disabled veteran. I’ve read in one of the (few, alas) analyses of portrayals of disability in film and TV that a component of the disabled veteran is his jaded and cynical attitude towards life and people – he becomes a bit of a misanthrope.

Now, about Avatar’s dialogue – in one of the theatrical trailers, Commander Quaritch (leader of the mission says to Jake), “you’re going to get your real legs back” or something to that effect. [opens with sound] Yet this piece of dialogue overlooks a fact that’s glaringly obvious: Jake still has his legs! Yes, he has a disability, but what’s the problem with his legs and/or wheelchair? The commander is implying that there is something not just physically, but morally, wrong with Jake’s disabled legs and wheelchair use: it is unacceptable in the military for a soldier to be disabled and, moreover, to show it.

And there is another issue I have with the way Quaritch uses the word “real.” The legs Jake has while in his wheelchair are the ones he was born with, and therefore, are true and natural, albeit he is now in a wheelchair. The commander is being terribly ableist and in denial of disability issues when he makes this statement. It’s a long-held stereotype (and still exists today) that disability is unnatural in people and so must be fixed or cured (an issue brought up by Meloukhia in ou article on Avatar). The thing is, disabilities have always been with us (for both non-disabled and disabled people) and according to Paul Jaeger and Cynthia Ann Bowman, 550 million people all over the world have disabilities, so disabilities are, in fact, quite natural.1

Avatar does not even confront disability in an honest and upfront way. The film, in my opinion, takes the easy way out by putting Jake in a completely different body (the alien) and thus, it completely bypasses any meaningful efforts for dealing with Jake’s disability and the issues that arise from it. I suppose that the film’s whole plot hinges on the fact that Jake enters an alien body to explore the planet “Pandora,” but still, the film seems to willingly ignore the regular experience of Jake as a disabled person in favor of an instance of “how cool is this alien creature!” The aliens really remind me of tigers in their ferocity, tails and stripes (!). The aliens also sort of remind me of elf-like creatures I’ve seen in certain illustrations and I’ve read about in fantasy novels: the Drow. Anyway, Jake is seduced into believing that an alien body is better for him than his real, disabled one and he gleefully decides to participate in the military’s little experiment.

The word experiment brings me to another point: the so-called medical model of disability. This version of the medical model in Avatar is glossed over with fancy and distracting features: advanced technology, a futuristic setting, alien life-forms and magic. Yet when these features are all stripped away, we can see that Jake is still being worked on physically, tampered with, if you will, by scientists—the medical model. In much the same way in real life, people with disabilities are prodded, observed and examined (sometimes exploited) by doctors, who claim they know what’s best for us.

That’s how I got a snapped tendon which is currently floating around somewhere in the vicinity of my knee. It’s the result of a semi-botched leg operation, in which “we overcompensated,” my orthopedic doctor (so helpfully –*sarcasm*) let me know years later. Yeah, you really know what’s best for me. I dislocated my knee twice during the years following the operation, and sometimes I think the snapped tendon was a contributing factor, although I probably will never really know.

Also, why are fictional characters with disabilities often put in films (and TV shows) with Sci-fi plots/concepts? To me, it perpetuates the stereotype that people with disabilities are ‘freaks’ and like I said earlier in this article, somehow unnatural. The instances of disabled characters showing up in Sci-fi movies seem to lump them together with strange Sci-fi creatures like aliens, androids and robots, to name a few; yet, as we all know, people with disabilities are human! However, I think that unfortunately, the writers, producers and directors of these types of films believe that disabled people are interchangeable with said aliens and androids. The creative decision to make Jake into an (albeit artificial) alien displays this belief; it further shows that Jake doesn’t deserve to be human because he isn’t ‘whole’ or ‘normal.’ Why can’t there be films and TV shows about people with disabilities that have a contemporary setting and that take a realistic approach to their subject matter (not counting Glee, which has representation problems of its own)?

Meloukhia’s earlier post about Avatar mentioned the film’s aspects of crip drag, so I won’t go into that, but I’d like to say something about how non-disabled film-makers seem to think that a wheelchair stands for all people with impairments, whether these are physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, learning, etc. This is of course wrong: disabilities are way more diverse in nature than simply having a wheelchair, and not all physical disabilities even require use of wheelchair (such as in my experience). Although if you think about it, we can take issue with the international accessibility symbol, too – it shows a figure in a wheelchair. This is the second (male, by the way) character in a wheelchair featured in a mass media production in the past six months (Glee’s the other). When will film-makers (and TV producers) create a character that has a disability which doesn’t involve a wheelchair – perhaps Epilepsy, or Asperger’s — to replicate the vast range of disabilities in real-life?

Furthermore, it seems to me that there are few, if any, films and TV shows which center around a disabled character that is also female. I’d like to see that, and not in the distant future either. Another thing I’d like to see out of a film or TV show is a female character with a disability that has a significant sex (and/or romantic) life; I guess I’ll have to keep hoping we’ll get that someday. Avatar doesn’t deliver on these fronts (and neither does Glee), because as usual in films and TV shows, the man, disabled or not, gets the girl in the end.

I know I’ve written a really long post, but one last thing. Has anyone seen this [toy of Sully] yet?

  1. Bowman, Cynthia Ann and Jaeger, Paul T. Understanding Disability: Inclusion, Access, Diversity, and Civil Rights. Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT: 2005. 165 pp.

By 22 December, 2009.    guest post  , ,  

James Cameron’s Avatar: Watch Some -isms This December!

I’m editing this post to ad, since a lot of people are arriving here with the search term “Avatar racist,” some links to thoughts on race in Avatar elsewhere on the Internet: Sek writes “Intentions be damned, Avatar is racist” and Annalee Newtiz (linked in Sek’s post), wrote: “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?

Amanda Hess over at The Sexist drew my attention to James Cameron’s Avatar by asking me if we were going to be covering it at FWD. I initially thought she was talking about The Last Airbender, based on the television series Avatar: The Last Airbender, which has been attracting a great deal of ire for whiteifying characters who were formerly people of colour. Once I got that straightened out and took a gander at the available information on Avatar, slated for a 18 December release date here in the good old US of A, I just about blew my stack.

James Cameron is a filmmaker who specializes in, uhm, using a lot of blue light. The blue obsession apparently is hard to kick, because this epic project features a race of blue people. Which I assume will involve the use of a lot of blue lighting.

Ok, enough making fun of James Cameron and the blue light thing (but seriously, people…think about any of the works of James Cameron that you  have seen. What you do remember? That’s right, you remember BLUE LIGHT). The story behind Avatar is that it’s apparently a project he’s been thinking about and working on since the 1990s, waiting for filmmaking technology to get to the point that could do this amazing masterwork of cinema justice.

The film is set on the moon Pandora, occupied by a people called the Na’vi. Who just happen to be nine feet tall, blue, and sparkly. Oh, and they live “in harmony” with the natural resources on their planet. The writeups I’m seeing are making references to “simplistic people,” “unspoiled world,” “deep connection with nature,” etc etc. Hellooooo, noble savages!

Naturally, peaceful blue aliens cannot be allowed to live out their lives unmolested, because this is Hollywood. Enter Jake Sully, a white human male who is sent to help humans establish a foothold so that they can exploit the planet’s natural resources (what these people need is a honky!). The Na’vi are naturally not onboard with this plan, hence, conflict! Our plucky human falls in love with a Na’vi woman, of course, and becomes trapped in conflict between, well, colonialism and noble savages. Ah, an allegory for the ages.

Excuse me while I gag a bit.

Ok, now that I’ve cleared my throat, let’s move on to the disability fail. Because this is FWD, so you know there’s got to be some disability fail to discuss. (Although it is true that I will leap at almost any opportunity to mock James Cameron.)

Jake, you see, is a veteran with paraplegia. And the reason he wants to go to Pandora is so that he will be put in an able body: An Avatar, as they are known in the movie. Or, at least, his consciousness will be projected into that body, since only the Avatar can survive in the environment on Pandora. Oh, hey, did I mention that the Avatars look like the Na’vi, so Jake is going to be in, well, blueface? Yes, the paraplegic needs to become a racial impersonator in order to overcome his disability.

Yeah, that’s right. This is a movie which is not only racist as all getout, but also centers around a Miracle Cure! Which, of course, means that the disabled character will be played by an actor in crip drag. And, of course, this story automatically assumes that having paraplegia and being a wheelchair user is a tragedy which would make one bitter and furious at the world, and that, of course, everyone would want a cure. I would not be surprised if they threw in a healthy dollop of PTSD, probably portrayed in the most offensive and infuriating way possible.

I really can’t wait for this movie to come out so that I can rip it a new one in full, but it’s worth pondering the fact that Cameron has been thinking about and developing this project for over a decade, and he apparently has not identified any content in it which might be considered problematic. Indeed, they’re shooting for a PG rating, evidently, just to make sure that people of all ages can be subjected to ableism and racism this holiday season.

Thanks to Amanda for drawing my attention to this. (And anytime y’all want to see us cover something that interests you, drop one of us a line!)

The Largest Minority Round Table Discussion: Glee and Disability in Pop Culture

Last week s.e. smith and several other members of the disability community, including Alice Sheppard (a dancer with AXIS wheelchair dance company), TK Small (a lawyer and disability rights activist), Christine Bruno (who works with the advocacy group Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts), and Maysoon Zayidd (an actor and comedienne with Cerebral Palsy).

came together on the WBAI show The Largest Minority to discuss Glee and depictions of disability in popular culture. This particular episode of the radio show was inspired by s.e.’s post, A Very Glee Christmas.

You can download directly from their site: This is a direct download link to save-as. Alternately, you can play it on the WBAI site by going to their archives and scrolling down to Shared Timeslot Wednesday 10pm to 11pm on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 10:00 pm. Alternately, you can read the transcript.

The actual show itself doesn’t start until 3:52 in to the program slot.

It’s taken me a while to get the transcript of this done, for which I apologize. I did mean to get this up far faster than I did. I also should note that I had some difficulties always identifying who was speaking, and there are points in the program where the show’s audio cuts out terribly and I’m unsure what they’re saying.

Read more: The Largest Minority Round Table Discussion: Glee and Disability in Pop Culture

Recommended Reading for April 1, 2010

A painting done showing hands in the Signs for A-S-L

Shit I Hate: Models as the Face of ED Survivorhood

Let me be clear – I do not hate models who are suffering from eating disorders, have come out as ED sufferers or survivors, or who have turned to advocate for other sufferers. That is a good thing to do, it comes from a place of kindness and intelligence, and it is an admirable use of privilege in order to help others. Model moral behavior, you might even say. However, I do not like the way the models’ narrative seems to be the dominant or even only story that is recognized in our wider media as the neatly-packaged beginning-to-end textbook case of an eating disorder. I’m focusing on women here because women’s bodies are, overwhelmingly, the target of these narratives. I’m also focusing on those women who have made it to tell their stories – though we know many will not make it, and we do not forget them. I’m talking specifically about media portrayal of ED survivors.

Nursing at the Keyboard [NAK]: How to give boob and type too

When my kids were little, they nursed a lot. A LOT. They were both evening cluster feeders, which meant that my options for the evening were to sit on the couch and watch TV or read a book, or I could NAK. Nursing at the keyboard was often the best choice for me. Television was sometimes too loud and the Internet was just too compelling. But as someone who has mastered the art of typing, trying to type messages one-handed while nursing a baby quickly got old. Something had to be done about it.

So I worked out a system.

“Let’s Go Talk to Patio Furniture”

One day Wanda refused to assist me in the bathroom and gave no explanation why. I was in class (college) so it was not like I had my mom there and none of my friends knew how to transfer me (why would they?). So there I was at lunch, needing to pee but my aide refusing. So I had to ask one of my friends. My aide wouldn’t even help explain how to transfer me or do anything else. I had to eyespell how to do everything to my poor friend.

Dear Michael & Brian, You Were Lied To

At i09, M. Night Shylaman answers questions about The Last Airbender Live Action Move (aka, that Racist Mess). And he shows not only that he’s the South Asian equivalent of an Uncle Tom; he shows that he doesn’t get the optimism and hope of Avatar – that it wasn’t that it started young and skewed older, but that it has a foundation of joy and hope and friendship that carries all through; just as it has a foundation of being non-white fantasy.

Remember the interview that’s now unfortunately on the official animated series DVD? About how he ‘got’ it all?

M. Night Shylaman lied.

Judge Quentin D Corley

Another disability history image thanks to the Flickr Commons project. This one is from the Library of Congress’s set from the George Grantham Bain Collection, news photos from 1910-1915. Here we see Judge Quentin D. Corley (as the title suggests), driving a very early model car with steering wheel adaptations for his prosthetic left hand; the right sleeve of his jacket appears to be empty. Corley looks to be a young man wearing a white summer hat.

Life is Too Short

Brandy, a large yellow Labrador worked faithfully by her partners side for 11 years. She was the first service dog for people with physical disabilities I ever met and I still remember meeting her and her human on while we were stuck on a plane having electrical difficulties on a tarmac in a plane going nowhere anytime soon. As the crew allowed other passenger to exit to plane if they wish for a bit, this gentleman and I bot made the decision to sit tight because it was too much of a hassle to get of the plane and risk not getting back in time.

Does Diagnosis Matter?

In the recovery movement, which is the zeitgeist in the delivery of mental health services at this time, we are supposed to look past someone’s diagnosis. I am not “a bipolar” or “depressive” or “schizophrenic.” I have been diagnosed with such, but the relevance of that diagnosis is highly suspect. Because aren’t I just Liz? Liz who is addicted to Dunkin Donuts hazelnut coffee, Liz who likes chihuahuas in sweaters, Liz who tries to do gluteal exercises to increase her butt’s circumference — without success. So many things make up my Liz-ness, right? So who cares what some doctor said?

Generally speaking, I agree with this approach. For many years we have been labelling people in an attempt to treat them, and the results aren’t exactly stellar. So why not change protocols, DSM by damned?


When I was in middle school, around the same age as this little girl is, and freshly diagnosed with Aspergers, I was also a victim of sexual harassment/assault, repeatedly, by my classmates. Innapropriate touching, lewd comments about my body, and bragging about taking advantage of me because I was too “retarded” to understand what was going on. This continued for three years uninterrupted, and only slightly lessened when I entered high school. Nobody did anything, not teachers, nor my parents, nor the administrative staff at the private school I attended. Whether it was due to them being oblivious to the bullying, whether they thought that because I was bigger than the other students that I should “take care of myself”, or because the students who tormented me were wealthy and came from good families and I didn’t, I’ll never know. I suffered in silence. In fact, until today, I’ve never talked candidly about the fact that I was sexually assaulted. I simply labelled it “bullying”.

By 1 April, 2010.    Uncategorized   

Quick Hit — 4D Plexes

Movie poster from the Korean realease of Avatar, showing a white man on the left and his blue faced Avatar on the right, with fantasy creatures imposed in the bottom foreground. Bottom has Korean writing for title "Avatar".Our local theater in South Korea has one of the first and only 4D Plexes in the world (and it is currently showing Avatar, so I could possibly be entertained and annoyed and over-stimulated all at once! Whee!).

“The way the company finally cornered that elusive fourth dimension is by engaging all five senses: moving seats, wind, water sprinkling, lasers, and synthetic smells are all used in time with the movie.”

What are your thoughts/feelings on this so-called break through in the movie going experience? Does the thought of a moving seat and being accosted with sprinkling water and scent sound like an enhanced movie experience for you? Does it seem like it would just provide another barrier to your enjoyment?

Personally I picture myself using my popcorn bucket for something other than its intended purpose…

Have at it in comments.

The Island That Heals: Lost, John Locke, and Disability

Note: This post contains discussion of Lost through season six, episode four, “The Substitute.” That means it is full of spoilers! You have been warned.

John Locke is one of the most central and interesting characters on ABC’s Lost. He is a character with whom I personally struggle as a viewer, especially as a disabled viewer with a critical eye to the depiction of disability on television. And, honestly? I don’t know quite how I feel about John Locke, and probably won’t until Lost concludes, but I’d like to take a gander at writing about him anyway, especially in light of this week’s Locke-centric episode.

And I should note that there is a huge body of myth and theory about John Locke. He’s a character who clearly grips viewers and is intended to. And I am well aware that there are probably some aspects of Locke Theory which would disagree with how I view his character, but I’d like to focus on how I perceive him as a viewer, rather than quickly becoming entangled in conflicting theories. Mainly because, I admit, I have not read a lot of the theory and I don’t want to try to delve into it now.

Read more: The Island That Heals: Lost, John Locke, and Disability

Recommended Reading for January 31st

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Las Vegas Sun: Deaf students learn about a college option just for them

Janeth Gastelum, a student, signs a question to representative from Gallaudet University

Image caption: Janeth Gastelum, a Liberty senior, asks a question Thursday during a presentation by a representative from Gallaudet University, an undergraduate liberal arts university in Washington, D.C., for deaf and hard of hearing students.

At Liberty High School this week, the queries came in rapid succession for Nick Gould, a recent graduate of Gallaudet University, the world’s first higher education institution for the deaf: How big is the college? How many dorms? Are there varsity sports? What about scholarships?

Gould, who travels the country on behalf of his Washington, D.C., alma mater, answered in sign language. […]

Gould said Gallaudet “is a place where we can thrive with our deafness, instead of running around it. I don’t think any other university in the world offers that.”

Asperger Square 8: Curing Autism

What I am wanting to say here is twofold. Sometimes the cure is worse than what one is seeking to alleviate. Alcohol allowed more words to flow, but the words were not good ones. They no more represented my true self than my silence had.

jonquil at Rosemary for Remembrance: Nothing was learned [post includes warning: ” triggery for cancer survivors I MEAN IT “]

This is the classic teaching case for engineering risk. Anybody associated with medical devices ought to have heard about it. The lessons learned were clear-cut, one of the most significant being that any such device ought to have a mechanical, non-software-controlled, interlock to prevent its operation with no shields in place.

hkfreeman at The Living Artist: Quick Rant

Stop telling me to go see Avatar in IMAX/3D. […] Think about that next time you ooh and ahh over some new technology. Is it new technology for everyone? Or just those privileged with a culturally approved set of sensory organs? Judge Rules Disabled Can Use Devices During Bar Exam

A federal judge in San Francisco ordered a national bar exam organization Friday to provide technological aids requested by a blind law school graduate who plans to take the test next month.[…]

[Stephanie Enyart] said that in order to read material on a computer effectively, she needs a combination of magnified text and a software program that reads portions of the text aloud.

The California State Bar agreed to allow her to use the technology combination for a portion of the exam, but the National Conference of Bar Examiners refused to allow her to use it for two other sections controlled by the national group. The group contended that Enyart’s plan would endanger security of the material and that other accommodations it offered would meet the requirements of the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

The adaptations offered by the conference included a human reader, a scribe to write down her answers and/or magnified text.[…]

Outside of court, Enyart said, “I’m glad I now have the luxury of just worrying about the bar exam itself”.

Miami Herald: Disabled teen’s dad wins fight over diaper costs

This week, a federal judge ruled that, for Florida children like Sharett [age 17], diapers are a medical necessity — not a “convenience” — and ordered the state Agency for Health Care Administration to pay for them. The ruling could affect thousands of sick or disabled children throughout the state. […]

Smith, of Miami, is raising Sharett and two other young children on about $1,000 a month in Social Security disability and survivor’s benefits. His wife of 26 years died of a brain tumor. The $200 to $300 he spent each month for diapers for Sharett represented 20 percent or more of his budget.

By 31 January, 2010.    recommended reading