Saturday, January 9, 2010

Avatar: Great White Hopeless But See It Anyway

So, on the surface (and beneath the surface) Avatar is what David Brooks describes as a "White Messiah" movie a la "Dances with Wolves" and a dozen other popular cinema, literary, and animated fables. The movie is of course about a white man that goes native, and in this movie he literally goes native in the end swapping his human body for an alien body, and leads the indigenous people to salvation. He falls in love with an alien version of Malinche/Pocahontas/Sacajewea/Insert Any Other Woman's Name Here Blamed for Giving Access to Her People By the Colonizers. And, of course the indigenous people are at one with the natural environment, have perfect bodies, exist without war amongst themselves, and live in a big tree. They are the noble savage perfected.

I should have hated this movie for all of those reasons, but I absolutely loved it.

I won't allow that James Cameron was sophisticated in his race analysis. He wasn't. But what he did was provide a very clear depiction of what corporatism and white colonization has done and continues to do to indigenous peoples and populations around the world. He doesn't represent the corporate/military industrial complex on Pandora as having some sort of benevolent intentions...he strips away the niceties that are often present in these movies that portray the "bad white guys" as simply misguided or doing evil in the name of good or higher intentions. He tells it like it is and shows how decisions are really made in the real world when indigenous communities are sitting atop a valuable resources that is desired by the industrialized world. And, the part that won me over, was that James Cameron, for the first time that I can remember in a major world wide cinema piece, directly and clearly makes the connection between capitalism, corporatism, and the military industrial complex. He shows clearly and definitively that they are conjoined, something many of us already knew, and that they can not and will not exist separate from one another. He pushes all of his characters to their illogical extremes. But in doing so gives a more realistic view of the "bad guys" than one is likely to get in a corporate backed theater in the Western World.

He also does a weak critique, but a critique none-the-less, of the clash between Western scientists and indigenous science and technology. Let's be clear, indigenous communities have had and continue to have technology that is culturally appropriate and may not look like Western technology but is still technology. Unfortunately, Western science fails to understand or understands incorrectly indigenous knowledge, medicine, science and technology. And, in this movie, they fail again. Except Sigorne Weaver, who magically comes to a complete understanding of the indigenous science and faith system just before she departs to live with Eywa. Pullllleaassse.

One interesting side note is that Cameron did something interesting. He used a derivation of the Aramaic word for God, which is Elaw. I know this because I use that name for God in the novel that I am writing. Score one for Cameron actually opening a book and doing some research.

In the end, I found value in watching Avatar, but not for the reasons, I am sure, that James Cameron wanted. The plot was thin, but it did communicate some messages, starkly, that the world needs to hear.

On another tip, entirely, I fully believe the special effects in this movie will redefine special effects in the way that the Matrix did almost a decade ago.

In the end, I support folks going to see Avatar. Walk into it knowing that it will again be a storytelling of the Great White Hope. If you accept that up front, you will be able to get past it and enjoy the movie for what it does offer in terms of originality. If nothing else, see it in 3-D...cuz...really...the special effects are fucking cool.


  1. "White Messiah"?


    As long as honkeys are making blockbusters and the Wayans brothers are pumping out "White Chicks", James Cameron will be raking in the big bucks.

  2. Very interesting analysis of the movie. I want to watch it again to catch some of the subtleties.

    Anyway, now that you gave this film the thumbs up, I am sure it will do o.k. at the box office:)

  3. @Gracie LOL. Unfortunately, the U.S. media complex, when faced with serious black films a la Spike Lee or even the Color Fucking Purple give few dollars and no awards. But let a Wayans bro put on White Face and some fake titties and we are talking millions of dollars. YAY AMERICA.

    @Yuval LOL. Cameron is now a billionaire. God Bless the Great White Hope!

  4. Listen, I loved The Color Purple as much as the next queen (did you even see the musical? We HAVE to talk!) but until Oprah is willing to get into old age make-up and hurl a big purple necklace into the North Atlantic(?)while Saline Peeon sings "My Fart Will Go Long", I don't even want to hear your sob story.

    Your racist rhetoric will not keep me down!

    WHITE POWER!!! Wait! Oh SHIT! No! Not like that! Are you going to beat me up now?

    Could you?

  5. I didnt see the 'white messiah' thing at all as after all it was also whites trying to kill everything so it stands to reason that some one of the same race fixes the problem...

    I just saw the white people waking up to what you were refering to as the natural technology and its benefit and reality and the only way to understand that is to 'walk a mile in their shoes'.... the message to me was "If you dont understand the value of something that is your fault as you have not opened to the possibility of it"

    the military being kill happy meat heads seems fairly standard in movies these days so that didnt seem too deep for me either other than to show the damage that comes from willful ignorance.

    And while I LOVED the movie I really wish I had watched it in 2D as 3D is just headache inducing... everything is just a tad out of focus (and I dont need glasses to read), writting on the screen was impossible to read and when the motion heated up so did the blurring, I found myself taking the glasses off to try to make better sense out of the non-overlayed sections, even the slow 3d sections just looked like 2d panels put in front of other 2d pannels so it was like watching a moving pop up book...

    Personally, I saw what you wrote about Brandon, but was more caught up in the parallel to my own life of opening out to natural spirituality while confronted with the expectation to follow either atheism or roman catholism. I grew up in the country and found my first spiritual teachers were the networked consciousness of the trees where I lived and the world.

    So the Tree as a link to their Godform seemed natural to me and I only thought that Weaver realised that Divinity existed on the point of death, not understood everything, which is not unusual in the real world when they start to transition.

    (getting off my soap box now :p) hehe

  6. Brandon as always you are on point.
    Saw the movie in New Orleanes over the holiday,Imani and Steven are seeing it right now,I have resivation to see it again on Monday with P.M. in 3-D I-Max
    This film could be this century's Birth of a Nation film.
    You hit quite hit the nail on the head,it lifts the vial on western capitalism, and its use of what Malcolm X called the three m's (missionaries,merchants and marines). Great critique.
    Popa M.

  7. Grace!!! That's all I can say between guffaws. You are too LIVE for colored tv. Did I
    say "colored"? -James A. Means

  8. Thanks Popa Moody. I appreciate the props and I am flattered you are ready my blog. Love to you and the family

  9. I enjoyed the movie, while watching it, for what it was... the cheese factor was very high... the characterizations were thin... the plot was utterly predictable... the "White Messiah" factor was astoundingly transparent... etc. The 3D was initially a bit hard to handle, but eventually just receded to the background and was another benefit... my reaction during the movie was, "Yes, amazing, breathtaking nature shots... oh wait... this is all CG..." (they apparently shot this in New Zealand?)

    What hit me hard afterwards, what still hits me hard when I think of it, what leaves me throughly enraged and profoundly deeply upset... which, by the way, is the only appropriate reaction to this movie, if you are even half awake... not to the movie, but to what it represents... the fact that this exact story (minus the great white messiah, although there *are* plenty of dedicated, conscious individuals out there helping indigenous people in respectful ways).... this exact goddamn fucking story, minus the natives winning... because you know, and I know, that all this movie showed was one god damn fucking tiny corporate outpost... this exact same story is happening, in place after place after place, across the world... right now, today, untold acres of untouched rainforest are being bulldozed... indigenous people are being killed and displaced and having their sacred places bulldozed.

    The sad, fucking pathetic thing is that we can't make a movie about that... we have to displace all this a couple of hundred years in the future and to an entirely different star system, to be able to talk about it.

    If you're even marginally conscious, you can hear Gaia screaming in agony... if you actually let the full scope of the devastation, the pain and suffering, being imposed on indigenous people and the natural world... there's no way you could function. You'd run down the street naked and screaming.

    I could barely talk, barely keep from breaking down and sobbing, after seeing the movie... not because of the preposterous plot and characterization, but because of the underlying truth of what it said.

    The only rational response to the movie is to become a radical Earth Firster... to take direct action against the machine... because all it really did, under all the gloss, is tell the truth about what we're doing to the planet we live on, and the people who happen to live where natural resources are abundant.

    I wish I had the resources to pay someone to stand outside every "Avatar" theatre and pass out Earth First literature.

  10. ... to finish a thought: the equivalent action in the real world would be to knock out one drilling platform... and you know that the reaction of the corporation in question would be to simply pour in enough resources to overwhelm the indigenous folks (and to call in the local military for protection). They wouldn't simply leave and not come back.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!