While James Cameron's visually-stunning Avatar (2009), a sci-fi about earth-human's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to colonize another planet, is widely seen as expressively anti-imperialist, others claim the movie – history's fastest to make a billion at the box office – contains subtle racism against indigenous peoples.
Telegraph blogger Will Heaven, who usually writes about politics, internet and religion in the United Kingdom, charges the movie with racism and Western left-wing arrogance:
I won’t spoil the plot, but here’s the basic set-up: a group of mercenary humans have colonised a faraway planet, called Pandora, in order to extract an enormously valuable mineral found there. Pandora’s “natives” – a race of tall, blue-skinned aliens called the Na’vi – live on an area of land which is set to be mined. They won’t relocate, so the humans attack.
By far the most contemptible theme in Avatar involves the hero, a young disabled American called Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington. Before the humans declare war on the Na’vi, Sully is sent to them (in the form of a blue-skinned avatar) in a last ditch attempt to find a diplomatic solution. But, lo and behold, he becomes one of them – sympathising so much with their plight that he decides to lead them into battle against the humans.
As Left-wing conceits go, this one surely tops all the others: the ethnic Na’vi, the film suggests, need the white man to save them because, as a less developed race, they lack the intelligence and fortitude to overcome their adversaries by themselves. The poor helpless natives, in other words, must rely on the principled white man to lead them out of danger.
Thinking for You, a Florida-based blogger, agrees:
I was rather struck that so many people in the audience would accept the corporation and the caricatures of the US military as enemies, that they would literally applaud the destruction of the strike force. But perhaps the joke is on me, because ultimately the representation of military loss is only pretend, and the message that remains attached to the visual spectacle seems to be that the fate of nature and culture depends not on right, or justice, or even on inner strength, but on the disputes and intervention of Anglo, male, U.S. Marines. Whether you are a predatory corporate enterprise, or a valiant blue native, you can't win without an Anglo male Marine on your side. Everything else is incidental, and resistance is futile.
Eric Ribellarsi, blogging at The Fire Collective: Fight Imperialism, Rethink and Experiment, disagrees:
I found the movie to be a nuanced and beautiful film that told the story of an elitist white soldier for imperialism who goes to exploit and oppress an indigenous nation of aliens (the Na’vi), but is instead transformed by them and won to take up armed struggle against imperialism along side them.
Indigenous blogger Mindanaoan's Narratives sees Avatar as “an activist’s dream movie” and draws parallels with problems in her own homeland in the Philippines:
The movie is also a reflection of the struggle of the indigenous peoples and rural communities in the hinterlands of Mindanao. Mining and other ‘development projects’ is linked with militarization and human rights violations; pitting lumads against lumads.
Jordan Poss Blog, based in the U.S. state of Georgia, takes a different view:
The equation of Na'vi with Native Americans is shameless and nauseating. Not because I think there's anything sacrosanct about the Indian experience–rather, the whole movie is so cloying and mawkish, the Na'vi so saintly and their earthly oppressors so evil I wanted to puke. This isn't storytelling, it's preaching. And lame preaching at that.
Asking the Wrong Questions, an Israel-based blog by Abigail Nussbaum, doesn't see the movie as romanticizing indigenous peoples:
When the film's production designer obliviously explains that making the film's Others blue-skinned aliens freed the filmmakers to tell a story that would have been considered racist if told about humans, and doesn't see the problem in what he's saying despite the fact that the only thing distinguishing those aliens from stereotypical Native Americans is their blue skin, what is there for a humble blogger to add?