We saw ” Avatar” in IMax and 3D the first week that it came out and we simply loved it. The special effects were mindblowing and the visual impact was enhanced by the 3D. Twelve of us saw it all together and , except for some minor caveats, not one of us found fault with the movie. We all felt that it was an enjoyable three hours and , in fact, some of us went and saw the movie again.
What a surprise then to find ” Avatar” being attacked from both right and left . Some call it racist while others say that it espouses liberal environmental and anti-military themes. Even the Vatican feels compelled to criticise it . Is all this criticism justifed ? Not at all , in my opinion. Some people are not happy unless there is some controversy. Or perhaps , it’s that they just like to see their name in print .
Strip away the special effects from “Avatar”and the story-line is rather simplistic. You know how it is going to turn out in the end. (Even if you haven’t seen the movie , I don’t think this brief synopsis will spoil things for you ). In the film a white, paralyzed Marine, Jake Sully, is mentally linked to an alien’s body and set loose on the alien planet Pandora. His mission: persuade the mystic, nature-loving Na’vi to make way for humans to mine their land for unobtanium, worth $20 million per kilo back on earth. The military commander of the base , hell bent on the success of the mission, is itching to use the military option and drive the N’avi off their sacred lands if need be. He promises Jake that he will help him get an operation to restore the use of his legs and Jake originally goes along with the plan, feeding the commander information about the N’avi . However, Jake slowly undergoes a change of heart after he falls in love with the N’avi Chieftain’s daughter and … you can guess the rest.
Those who say that the movie contains racist themes – a white man saving the primitive natives – see it as a reiteration of the ” White Messiah ” fable.
Robinne Lee, an actress of Jamaican and Chinese ancestry, said that “Avatar” was “beautiful” and that she understood the economic logic of casting a white lead since most of the audience is white. But she said the film still reminded her of Hollywood’s “Pocahontas” story – “the Indian woman leads the white man into the wilderness, and he learns the way of the people and becomes the savior.” “It’s really upsetting in many ways,” said Lee, “It would be nice if we could save ourselves.”
Annalee Newitz, editor-in-chief of the sci-fi Web site io9.com, compared “Avatar” to the recent film “District 9,” in which a white man accidentally becomes an alien and then helps save them, and to 1984’s “Dune,” in which a white man becomes an alien Messiah. “When will whites stop making these movies and start thinking about race in a new way?” wrote Newitz, who is white.
Black film professor and author Donald Bogle said he can understand why people would be troubled by “Avatar,” although he praised it as a “stunning” work.
Bogle stopped short of calling the movie racist and said that he was glad Cameron made the film and that it made people think about race. “Maybe there is something he does want to say and put across” about race, Bogle said. “Maybe if he had a black hero in there, that point would have been even stronger.”
Really ? I fail to see why that is necessary. What does it matter if the hero is black or white ? I think that it is Newitz and these other critics who ” need to think about race in a new way”.
When I see a movie , I identify with the hero ( or heroine) regardless of whether black or white or brown , whether young or old , male or female . Race , gender, age have nothing to do with it. What I admire are the qualities of the character not the physical characteristics. I think, I hope, that most moviegoers are like that. I would have agreed with the racist label for Avatar only if all the villains belonged to a particular race ; that is not the case with Avatar. The military commander is white , something which these critics conveniently omit to mention. Case closed. I won’t rehash all the other arguments why Avatar is not racist.
By the way , what do you call someone who sees everything through the prism of color , who puts everything in terms of black and white ?
I never thought that “Avatar” would come in for criticism from the Vatican. The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published no less than three articles about “Avatar” , the thrust of which was that the movie was a simplistic and sappy tale , despite it’s awesome special effects, and that it flirts with the idea that worship of Nature can replace religion. Vatican radio echoed the criticism saying that , in the movie ” Nature is no longer a creation to defend but a divinity to worship.” A Vatican spokesman the said that while the movie reviews are just that _ film criticism, not theological pronouncements _ they do reflect Pope Benedict XVI’s views on the dangers of turning nature into a “new divinity. Pope Benedict has often spoken about the need to protect the environment, but he also has balanced that call with a warning against turning environmentalism into neo-paganism. In a recent World Day of Peace message, the pontiff warned against any notions that equate human beings with other living things in the name of a “supposedly egalitarian vision.” He said such notions “open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man’s salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms.”
I suppose the Pope was only trying to defend his turf . He is certainly entitled to do so but I find myself completely at odds with his views. If religions ( notice I used the plural) were not anthropocentric , preaching that Man is the Center of creation and that all other creatures and plants exist only to serve him , perhaps we might have developed into kindlier, gentler, more compassionate human beings. A greater awareness of Nature would have seen us with fewer environmental problems than we face now.
As for the criticism that “Avatar” is antimilitaristic, I think it is misplaced. The movie pits invading humans against peaceful natives who control a scarce resource.What it does warn against is mititary adventurism of the sort that has us embroiled in the Middle East. It can be seen as a parable for Iraq ; in fact one of the soldiers uses the term ” shock and awe” , a phrase that was often used to describe miliary tactics in the campaign against Saddam. Is it so wrong to inveigh against over-eagerness in starting wars ?
“Can’t people just enjoy movies any more?” a person named Michelle posted on the website for Essence, the magazine for black women.
I couldn’t agree more.