Tag Archives: Avatar
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.
- 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.”
- 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.
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!)