Re: Some See Racist Theme in 'Avatar' - Movies.msn.com
The director of Avatar, James Cameron, has made a living out of making films with paper-thin narratives, cliched characters, but with lots of pretty things to look at. Avatar is no different. I must admit that I enjoyed the thrill-ride while I was on it, but looking back on the film now just makes me ever so sad.
Now, there have been a lot of comments about how Sully, the protagonist/dreamwalker/Avatar, is highly reminiscent of the character that Tom Cruise played in The Last Samurai and Kevin Costner played in Dances with Wolves. Sully is, in effect, the white man who abandons "his" people to become the best damn minority ever. This is, because, white men are the best at everything. He gets to ride the toughest beast in the sky, he gets the village "prize" in the form of the highest ranking spiritual lady in waiting, and he hatches the plan that defeats the evil corporation that is trying to destroy Pandora's beauty. He proves that white men are really awesome at everything; including being an alien racial minority.
Spoiler alert in the paragraphs ahead. You may want to stop here if you have not seen and wish to view Avatar.
Michelle Rodruigez, once again, plays the hot-tempered Latina who is a military pilot with a soft spot for the blue Na'vi. Sigourney is relegated to the head maternal scientist role. She really wants to be a Na'vi and enjoys her forays into their world in her Avatar body. This bit of typecasting is not what bothers me (older woman as mother, Latina as "spicy"). It is the fact that for all their agency in the film that they are eventually killed off. Frequently, maybe more so than the white men as the best damn racial minority trope, female characters that embody some sort of power physically or mentally, are killed off because they are threatening to typical notions of white, male patriarchy.
Meeting their untimely doom, does not generally affect male characters who challenge authority in film. Avatar proves no different. Norm (Joel Moore), the other lovable scientist/Avatar survives the battle at the end. Not even the baddie head of corporate (Giovanni Ribisi) croaks. Nope. Once the human ladies decide to fight and challenge authority it is curtains for them and their sense of empowerment.
The only other main female character is also the only one who survives the climactic battle: the Na'vi princess, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). And this is because Neytiri conforms to stereotypical notions of femininity. For instance, although she is a Na'vi warrior/spiritual leader, she bows down to the power and influence of the white male outsider, Sully. She is, in effect, tamed by him when she chooses him as her partner and, in a really strange scene, copulates with him in the glowing woods. She literally defends him and his authority during the climactic battle and delivers him to the glowing tree at the end so he can be permanently fused with his Na'vi body and take his place as chief of the tribe. She exhibits a lot of physical, mental, and spiritual authority, but once she meets Sully it is all in service of him and his mission. Lame.
Undoubtedly, Avatar broke new ground technologically with its combination of human actors and computer generated effects. However, I wish that more time had been taken to think about how the story perpetuates very old notions of gender and race that are deeply troubling to those of us who do not identify with the white, male majority. I want to see a movie where women get to kick butt (mentally or physically), take names, don't lament over their relationships with men and survive to tell their tale.
To see Sigourney Weaver talk about her character in Avatar click here.
To see Zoe Saldana talk about her character in Avatar click here.