Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 13, 2010

The left debates “Avatar”

Filed under: Film,indigenous — louisproyect @ 7:02 pm

Jake Sully

John Brown

“Avatar” has triggered one of the more interesting debates on the left in quite some time. Some critics such as me and Prairie Miller, a comrade from the James Agee Critics Circle, hail it as pop culture assault on colonialism while others view it as a paternalistic treatment based on the White Savior paradigm found in “Dances With Wolves”.

For example, the very first comment under my review, by blogger Macon D. who I would generally consider a fan (dare I use that word?) of the unrepentant Marxist, demurred:

Sure, it’s a marvelous, technologically proficient spectacle, but in terms of how reaches into white hearts and minds in basically the same old racist way, I’d say it’s a very cheap thrill.

He also referred to an article by Annalee Newitz who edits the io9 website (“We come from the future” is their motto; it is owned by Gawker) that is titled appropriately enough as When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like “Avatar”? She reaches a level of vituperation that is generally associated with Marxist polemics, although her ideology appears much more in the post-Marxist vein based on the fact that she was co-founder of the Bad Subjects website, now defunct. As the author of Routledge Press’s “White Trash: Race and Class in America”, she seems to have the scholarly credentials necessary to speak on such matters. She writes:

Sure, Avatar goes a little bit beyond the basic colonizing story. We are told in no uncertain terms that it’s wrong to colonize the lands of native people. Our hero chooses to join the Na’vi rather than abide the racist culture of his own people. But it is nevertheless a story that revisits the same old tropes of colonization. Whites still get to be leaders of the natives – just in a kinder, gentler way than they would have in an old Flash Gordon flick or in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars novels.

She also makes the comparison with “Dances With Wolves”, which is fairly de rigueur if you are mounting a criticism of “Avatar”:

This is a classic scenario you’ve seen in non-scifi epics from Dances With Wolves to The Last Samurai, where a white guy manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member.

Ironically, this analysis does not fall exclusively within the radical subculture. Nobody can be more “establishment” than the NY Times op-ed columnist David Brooks and here is what he says in a January 7 column titled “The Messiah Complex”:

Still, would it be totally annoying to point out that the whole White Messiah fable, especially as Cameron applies it, is kind of offensive?

It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.

When “Dances With Wolves” came out, there was a torrent of criticisms from indigenous peoples in the same vein as Newitz, who felt it necessary one supposes to take up the cause of the Na’vi, an imaginary people. As such, her closest relative speaking ideologically was Ward Churchill who trashed the movie in a 1998 Lip Magazine article:

The propaganda function served by the revisionist formula is to allow constituents of America’s dominant settler society to avoid confronting the institutional and cultural realities, which led unerringly to the historical genocide of American Indians. Moreover, in first being led to demonize men like Custer, and then helped to separate themselves from them via the signification of characters like Jack Crabbe, Christa Lee and Costner’s Lt. Dunbar, white audiences are made to feel simultaneously “enlightened” (for having been “big” or open enough to concede that something ugly had occurred) and “good about themselves” (for being so different from those they imagine the perpetrators to have been).

Thus reassured, mainstream moviegoers and TV viewers are psychologically positioned to join Sully, the “nice white guy” in Dr. Quinn, intoning in unison that, since they who are so different from Custer now comprise it and despite what “he” did to the Indians, “this is still the best country in the world” Translated, (after viewing a movie like Dances With Wolves) mainstream audiences feel-ever-so-much more entitled to participate in the American system, and to gorge themselves on the material benefits accruing from it, than they did before.

Ironically, we eventually learned that it was a distinct possibility that Ward Churchill was not that much different from Kevin Costner’s character in “Dances With Wolves”. When pressed to prove his Cherokee ethnicity in the U. of Colorado witch-hunt, he was not able to come up with anything much more than the fact that his grandmother used to tell him that the family had Cherokee blood or that he was an honorary member of a tribe in Oklahoma.

At the time, Jim Craven, a Blackfoot economics professor who was subbed to the Marxism mailing list, questioned whether Churchill’s blood lines mattered that much. Craven’s own mother used to tell him that blood mattered a lot less than what was in your heart. Full-blooded Blackfoot Indians at the reservations in Canada and Montana did a lot less than Jim, who was only 1/8th Indian himself.

Interestingly enough, Churchill was not only annoyed with people like Kevin Costner who meddled in indigenous politics. He also lashed out at Karl Marx whose white European ideology had no place in indigenous affairs. In an essay contained in Ward Churchill’s collection “Marxism and Native Americans”, Russell Means argues that there is little to distinguish Marxism from other European ideologies based on the worship of science and technology. One supposes that if you are consistently “indigenist”, you’d have to reject Karl Marx as just another missionary. That perspective, however, would have been rejected by José Carlos Mariátegui, the founder of Peruvian Marxism who sought to synthesize Marxism and the native Incan traditions of his own country.

Considering Mariátegui’s impact on the Latin American revolution today, especially in countries with a large indigenous population like Ecuador and Bolivia, it is worth considering what one leader makes of “Avatar”.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, January 12, 2010
Bolivia’s Morales Lauds Social Themes in ‘Avatar’
Filed at 2:40 p.m. ET

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivia’s first indigenous president is praising ”Avatar” for what he calls its message of saving the environment from exploitation.

A self-proclaimed socialist, Evo Morales says he identifies with the film’s ”profound show of resistance to capitalism and the struggle for the defense of nature.”

James Cameron’s ”Avatar” tells of the mystic, nature-loving Na’vi — tall blue creatures who inhabit the planet Pandora and must contend with humans intent on grabbing its resources.

It has earned more than $1.1 billion worldwide since its release last month.

Morales’ comments were reported Tuesday by the official news agency ABI.

ABI said he watched the film with his daughter Sunday in his third-ever trip to the movies.

Finally, a word or two should be said about one of the most noted “race traitors” in American history, a white man who not only placed himself at the head of a slave revolt, but used Messianic language in justifying his role:

This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done–as I have always freely admitted I have done–in behalf of His despised poor was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments–I submit; so let it be done!

These are the words of John Brown Speech to the Court at his Trial in November 2, 1859. This is one American hero who not only deserves a movie that treats him as such but one who challenges the analysis of Annalee Newitz, no matter how well intended.

71 Comments »

  1. Hi Louis,

    This is a good overview of the debate. I have been following it all closely.

    I was floored by the Hollywood spectacle at the viewing with my daughter, 12. We both saw it as a blistering successful anti-imperialist struggle against the United States’ military. We viewed it as a lefty response to te Bush/Cheney Iraq invasion. We were thrilled that such a film passed muster.

    Note: My daughter qualifies as a “red diaper baby” and so I take partial responsibility for her mis-education.

    Now, on the deeper levels of how the hyperreal flick evinces Western tropes (as in reproducing the White Man as hero- something that Churchill very importantly has denounced in several venues – including TV dramas like Quinn, Medicine Woman) I must say that some of this is also true. Whether these ideological (or strategic) devices amount to a devastating indictment of the movie, I think not. But they need to be said.

    I’d like to compare Avatar with Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” to see how both of them work as popular education (or as the academics call it today, “public pedagogy”. With Avatar, I imagine that a great many viewers will not interpret it as I and my daughter did. . .it will be Lone Ranger stuff. However it can be said to be a case where “the truth dazzles gradually” as Village Voice writer Jack Newfield wrote about his style of journalism. On the other hand, Michael Moore’s Capitalism movie (which I missed at the theaters and am waiting now for DVD release – told it will be march) is more direct about the Dark Star of Capitalism which likely dooms us all. Moore’s film is “left light” compared to what a camera would be in the hands of you, Perelman, Henwood, St. Clair, Cockburn and Moyers. . .but it does seek to name names. . .

    Yes, we need good films on John Brown, Karl Marx, Eugene Debs, Ho Chi Minh, and others from the left pantheon. I recently discovered that there was a Britich film on Tom Paine, but that it never got good distribution, apparently for political reasons. . .it can be ordered at:

    http://www.cfpf.org.uk/recommended/video/tp_vid-en.html

    Best,

    Brian

    Comment by Brian McKenna — January 13, 2010 @ 7:29 pm

  2. Above all it’s a damn movie, something most on the left really don’t understand, as witnessed by the discussion on marxmail. It’s like the old Irvin Silbar review of Star Wars in The Guardian back when the first episode came out. Basically useless. If you don’t start with the producers and writers and directors and actors own perspective, it’s all useless chatter. If you listen to the Churchills and Silbars these movies would not be made. And we’d all be poorer for it.

    Comment by Carolina — January 13, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

  3. While I may have agreed with Annalee or Ward in the past, I have also come to see the limits of this kind of social critique that centers too much on identity as opposed to the actual struggle — i.e., where who you are by dint of birth is more important and bears more authenticity than what one does in life. In many ways, this argument has itself become a tired trope, effectively stopping any further thinking and critical engagement with the issues while withholding the potential for transformation that would greatly assist the cause. It also becomes a convenient excuse for pontificating as opposed to leading the horse of public opinion to water so to speak, unless one counts posturing and grandstanding as activism. This is all made more complicated when the actual claims to authenticity are themselves shaky.

    And strangely enough in this case, the charges of “racism” eclipse the powerful anti-colonial and anti-imperial critique in a counterproductive and possibly self-serving manner — i.e., it is easy to carve out a comfortable upper or middle class niche in the existing system through the deft management of racial politics, but not if one joins the resistance.

    Comment by ceti — January 13, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

  4. I haven’t yet seen the film, so I can have no comment about it. But from the reviews I have seen, it seems that the widespread (hostile?) comments repeated in the AP article on Morales–“James Cameron’s ”Avatar” tells of the mystic, nature-loving Na’vi — tall blue creatures who inhabit the planet Pandora” is totally off the mark. A planet in which all life is neurologically interlinked is not, cannot be, a “natural” (in the trivial ordinary sense) environment. It could only come to be as the expression of the most advanced, though “soft,” technology, the historical result of planned bioengineering on a totally comprehensive scale. Necessarily, this “soft” choice would sacrifice the possibility of extra-planetary exploration, posing obvious problems in the event of visitation from the forces of a “hard” imperialist technology–problems that would seem to provide the plot of the film. Nevertheless, Pandora would not be a “natural” world, a world in which intelligent beings confront an alienated (separated from their self-consciousness) “natural” environment. It would be a planet in which every sentient life-form, animal or vegetable, experiences its total environment not as “nature” but as *its own “second nature”*. Coincidentally (?) this is not so far from the ultimate communist perspective for the human *gattungswesen* adumbrated in Marx’s early, overtly Hegelian, writings.

    Comment by Shane Mage — January 13, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

  5. You’re missing something, it’s right there in the title of Newitz’ article. What’s most grating about the White Savior movies is not that they have existed at all, it’s the sheer quantity of them. THE LAST SAMURAI is a fine example of the depths to which a studio would plumb to find a story of a White leader in feudal Japan. The figure on which Cruise’s hero is based was unheard of, a footnote in the eons of the nation’s history. Yet, when we want to bring Japan to Western screens, not only do we fall on “samurai” but a White one to boot.

    You have to pick apart these characters; they’re thrust into some situation with “natives,” develop some kind of sexual connection to them and are shamed into seeing things rightly.

    Brown was far more complex than that, and I would hope that any Hollywood depiction of him wouldn’t reduce him so.

    We really do get that Cameron’s an anti-imperialist, this year at least. It’s just that he picked a rather pedestrian way of letting us know.

    Comment by gandalfmantooth — January 13, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

  6. The film is both. It’s a solidly anti-imperialist film, which is not based on stale pacifism. That is, if the person viewing it actually understands it, it promotes desertion and rebellion against colonial enterprise. As an analogy, that’s most clearly an allusion to the war in Iraq and also to the original colonization of the Americas.

    However, it is also classic white liberal “anti-racism”, which is racist. It relies on tropes of the noble savage, of infantile natives, and of the white saviour (who is a better native than the natives, ultimately — also pointing to the superior ability of whites to understand everyone else, etc. — classical ethnographic hubris).

    I think the problem in doing the latter, especially with the representation of the noble savage, is that it points to the protection of the pristine people. The most immediate reference is to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, who, conveniently, have already been wiped out so it’s just a sad tale of how we screwed up. But of course, as we know, the people of Iraq are no noble savages, they are mean and terroristic, and they oppress their women, and they blow things up and we don’t know why.

    That’s the problem, aside from being racist. It undermines its own narrative by failing to show the Na’vi as anything but infantile primitives.

    The left has to be able to look at the film in both senses — as a solid anti-imperialist film, but one that is still racist. The left has to fight the latter tendency.

    Comment by noaman — January 13, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

  7. “What’s most grating about the White Savior movies is not that they have existed at all, it’s the sheer quantity of them.”

    I think to compare this to “The Last Samurai” is an exercise in stupidity. “Avatar” is an unbridled if metaphoric attack on nearly 10 years of imperialist war and mining/petroleum extraction at the expense of local populations. I can’t say I am surprised by Newitz’s “edgy” but sterile critique. That’s what Bad Subjects was all about, after all. A bunch of postmodernist grad students with a smattering of knowledge about Marxism.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 13, 2010 @ 9:09 pm

  8. However, it is also classic white liberal “anti-racism”, which is racist.

    So we have the racism of “Avatar” as well as the racism of maybe 100 films over the past 10 years that glorify the Navy Seals or Green Berets kicking the shit out of jihadists. I’ll stick with the racism [sic] of the former.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 13, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

  9. I haven’t seen the movie. I guess, from the criticisms, that the “white” guy does something critical for the liberation of the Colored beings ? I’ll probably see the movie, as a lot of people are talking about it.

    Actually, the Indian meaning of Avatar sort of supports the critics,”a deliberate descent of a deity from heaven to earth”

    Avatar
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Ten avatars of Vishnu (clockwise, from upper left): Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Vamana, Krishna, Kalki, Buddha, Parshurama, Rama & Narasimha, and Krishna (centre)In Hinduism, Avatar or Avatāra (Devanagari अवतार, Sanskrit for “descent” [viz., from heaven to earth]) refers to a deliberate descent of a deity from heaven to earth, and is mostly translated into English as “incarnation”, but more accurately as “appearance” or “manifestation”.[1]

    Anyway, how about Lawrence of Arabia, “The White Man’s Burden”.

    Comment by charles — January 13, 2010 @ 10:12 pm

  10. Sorry,but I agree with noaman here: it seems the naiv’i are rather overly simplistic and associating the great io9 article with Ward Churchill can’t discredit it.

    There’s also these to consider:

    http://lefarkins.blogspot.com/2009/12/intentions-be-damned-avatar-is-racist.html

    http://zunguzungu.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/avatar-and-the-american-man-child-dont-you-want-to-be-an-indian-little-boy-and-put-feathers-in-your-hair/

    I can’t help but notice you have this attitude from time to time in the past Louis, too. It just seems that you treat the native americans as only naive victims when really they’re individuals and I think they have the ability to fight for themselves too.

    Comment by Jenny — January 13, 2010 @ 10:31 pm

  11. sorry, one more:

    http://zunguzungu.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/avatar-and-american-imperialism/

    It’s not like Cameron’s against the military either- he’s worshiped them in Aliens and Terminator after all.

    Comment by Jenny — January 13, 2010 @ 10:38 pm

  12. It’s not like Cameron’s against the military either- he’s worshiped them in Aliens and Terminator after all.

    Well, I think the military should be used to kill acid-spitting dragons from outer space, as was the case in the Alien movies. I might volunteer for duty myself, considering what they did to Sigourney Weaver, my favorite actress. Terminator? I wasn’t aware that there is much military worshipping going on there. I seem to remember it more as an attack on the consequences of using computers along the lines of Reagan’s “Star Wars” program.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 13, 2010 @ 11:03 pm

  13. Well all right, I like Aliens too, but in this movie, it just seems they put an emphasis on Sully as the savior who got benefits when really it should’ve been about the tribe itself and their struggle. Cameron advocates a top-down sort of thing.

    Comment by Jenny — January 13, 2010 @ 11:18 pm

  14. Ok . . .

    Clearly THE LAST SAMURAI has not much more at it’s core than Cruise’s desire to win an Oscar, perhaps some weak sauce about the glory of “the old ways.” AVATAR portends to be “about” something and that something is what you champion. But if you find there no similarities between Cruise’s White samurai and AVATAR’s lead (and Costner’s Lieutenant and Broderick’s Union soldier and countless smaller films with no Oscar pretensions) and the situation he finds himself in then maybe we ought to take your critic’s badge. We’ll let you keep your Marxist stripes, though.

    I don’t know about Newitz’ “white guilt” argument. I haven’t gone as far as to agree with that point (did you miss that?). To me her strongest point — and most troubling — is the simplest, her question right there in the article’s header.

    It’s a plea for Takamori or Tecumseh or even Neytiri to be able to tell their own stories and lead their own revolts without having the White male lead them into battle. The only argument against having those stories told ALONG SIDE your DANCES WITH WOLVES is financial.

    noaman makes sense to me, from the left one can champion one and fight the other.

    Comment by gandalfmantooth — January 13, 2010 @ 11:25 pm

  15. “The military” was only used in the Cameron take on the Alien saga. All other times it was your basic rag-tag (salaried workers, prisoners, mercenaries) group doing the fighting. Actually, The Company wanted the alien for its weapons division.

    Comment by gandalfmantooth — January 13, 2010 @ 11:30 pm

  16. Ah, but Glory was based on a true story and the soldiers weren’t necessairly protrayed as naive from what I can recall.

    Comment by Jenny — January 13, 2010 @ 11:42 pm

  17. LOU-IS!

    You leave “Prairie Miller” *alone*.

    Furthermore:

    The word from Porto San Awesome [.] is – *let other people play with John Brown’s damn carcass*.

    DIG.

    Comment by Jeffrey Rubard — January 13, 2010 @ 11:52 pm

  18. Please, God, yes, before I die, a great film about John Brown.(Thanks for the wonderful speech, Louis.) I even have the title sequence: a view from above of a multiracial crowd swirling around what we come to see is a scaffold, from what we come to see is John Brown’s point of view. On the soundtrack (and giving the film its title), “John Brown’s Dream,” by the great North Carolina fiddler Tommy Jarrell. (Some of those old mountain boys and their heirs weren’t too crazy about the lowland and Piedmont plantocracy.)

    Who to play? Well, Willem DaFoe has done Jesus and a vampire, so he might be able to manage this, too.

    Now where’s the smart money?

    Comment by Jim Holstun — January 14, 2010 @ 12:48 am

  19. I mostly agree with noaman that the film is a contradictory thing — both anti-imperialist and racist — but for me the racism was mitigated somewhat by the fact that the hero actually chooses a Na’vi body at the end. Remember earlier, at one point, the villain tells him he’s being “a traitor to his race.” I thought that was an interesting word for Cameron to use right there — not species or “world” or whatever, but race: the hero is a race-traitor. That’s pretty powerful stuff, to my thinking anyway, to throw into this mix. The protagonist gives up his so-called “white” body at the end for a blue one. It goes a little further than a kind of “dress up” going-native fantasy to wanting to actually change the color of your skin if given the opportunity.

    Granted, the “white” body is injured, damaged, so that’s putting the thumb in the scale, but on the other hand he was told earlier by the villain that the successful execution of his imperialist mission could get him a new pair of legs back home. So, once again, I think the going-all-the-way race traitor element, for me anyway, mitigates somewhat the White Savior aspects.

    Comment by Edmond Caldwell — January 14, 2010 @ 12:49 am

  20. Oh, and: I second Jim Holstun on the wish for a great John Brown movie. Wasn’t there supposed to be a film or cable tv version of Russell Banks’ “Cloudsplitter” in the works at one time or another?

    And say, Holstun, didn’t I meet you once at Tufts (you were there to give a talk as a guest of Modhumita Roy)?

    Comment by Edmond Caldwell — January 14, 2010 @ 12:52 am

  21. He still gets certain special benefits though, that’s the issue.

    Comment by Jenny — January 14, 2010 @ 1:02 am

  22. I’m not saying that the ‘race-traitor’ aspect solves all the film’s problems, but rather mitigates them to an extent. However, won’t his “special benefits” go away to the extent that he’s no longer “white,” no longer an exception? Isn’t the White Savior fantasy a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too (or alleviate-your-guilt-but-still-dominate) fantasy — that you can ‘identify’ heavily with the ‘natives’ and throw in your lot with them, but always remain the exception, always keep your foot in the ‘white’ camp (never give up that good old white privilege). And doesn’t the ending of Avatar at least gesture, perhaps, in the direction of something else or resolving the “split” of the fantasy in a less-frequently taken direction?

    Comment by Edmond Caldwell — January 14, 2010 @ 1:10 am

  23. Did you check out the Lawyers guns and money post? it touches on his “transformation”

    Comment by Jenny — January 14, 2010 @ 1:40 am

  24. Interesting discussion. [Are you THE Shane Mage?}

    Anyway, given that this is not a movie made from the literature of the ages, and is a product of the current times and the imagination of, more or less, one man, that it is contradictory seems like it goes with the territory.

    Somebody once encapsulated to me an irony: alcohol is the sacrament of European-rooted religion but poison to Native Americans while tobacco is the sacrament of Native American religions but poison to people of European-rooted culture. By which I mean the cultural lenses we view this movie seem relevant and changeable. I mean, it’s good, isn’t it, that there’s a mass popular culture depiction of rebellion and anti-corporatism? And it’s terrible, isn’t it, that once again “native” peoples (even imaginary blue ones from another planet) are stereotyped in our minds as both desirably innocent and in need of a white savior?

    This is pretty much the contradiction of the United States in a nutshell, no?

    Comment by ish — January 14, 2010 @ 1:40 am

  25. Haven’t seen Avatar yet but I have a question: would a movie about the late Joe Slovo garner the same criticisms?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 14, 2010 @ 2:42 am

  26. The film sounds like a contradiction, both anti-racist/imperialist and racist/imperialist. Perhaps this is so because it represents a liberal (in the American sense) or social democratic perspective. I recall Marx in The 18th Brumaire saying something about (social) democracy reflecting the pseudo-universal position of the petty bourgeoisie, thinking themselves neither proletarian nor bourgeois, as Lenin wrote of the vacillations of the petty bourgeoisie. I don’t know James Cameron’s personal background, but perhaps it’s enough to recall that he’s Canadian (as am I), social democracy/welfare liberalism still being the (precariously) predominant ideology here, not quite yet defeated by neoliberalism/neoconservatism. Or maybe it boils down to some benign primordial maternal influence, as I’ve noticed in his films a consistent, exceptionally decent/generous/strong (by Hollywood standards), if not exactly feminist, appreciation/characterization of women (Woman?). Think of Kate Winslet in Titanic, Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, Linda Hamilton in the Terminator films, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss. And likewise his love of the sea? I recall Ed Harris in The Abyss, having to “breathe” underwater some experimental liquid oxygen, being explicitly compared to a fetus in the womb. But then I seem to recall that Cameron hails from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada’s bo-bo paradise, our super-natural lotusland. So maybe, after all, he’s just a stereotypical Hollywood (limousine) liberal (Gaia eco-feminism included).

    Comment by Alex — January 14, 2010 @ 5:13 am

  27. Another interesting review ,albeit in the same vein…

    http://filmfreakcentral.net/screenreviews/avatar.htm

    That said , it’s okay to like Avatar while at the same time agreeing with some,or all, of the things said in both reviews.
    Let’s face it,given the times, Avatar was bound to raise a lot of discussion. Particularly given the subject matter,anti-imperialism/colonialism,race etc etc … that’s a good thing. So enjoy the movie and the equally enjoyable/interesting debate it engendered.
    And don’t sweat it,I am sure that the “overly impressionable” young people & the “dumbed-down- masses” will be none the worse after seeing Avatar,indeed some might even make the connections. 😉

    Comment by dirk — January 14, 2010 @ 5:17 am

  28. Okay, I see I fooled myself into thinking Cameron is from Vancouver, B.C., no doubt because it’s such a perfect fit. But on the other hand, I also see he made the heinous film True Lies.

    Comment by Alex — January 14, 2010 @ 6:08 am

  29. “It’s not like Cameron’s against the military either- he’s worshiped them in Aliens and Terminator after all.” Actually is the military venerated in Terminator? It is the mad designs of the nuclear cold war that created skynet in the first place. Today, Terminator stands as a stark warning to the increasingly roboticized warfare of the West and the insane logic of war in general.

    As for Cameron, he’s from Kapuskasing, Ontario, a working class northern town. His family moved to California (his father was an electrical engineer and his mother an artist and nurse) when he was 17. He ended up driving truck and pumping gas in his 20s until one bright day he went to see Star Wars, and decided he could do better. He also comes from that Steve Jobs/Bill Gates genius cohort.

    I am actually bristling against the charges of racism over this film as they are as tired (and in some cases self-serving for the commentators who just have to dust off their undergraduate papers) as the tropes they try to describe. Yes you might think that you can never tire of it because Hollywood never tires of its own tropes, but I find the debate increasingly stale and reeking of the self-absorbed culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s (that in some ways paved the way for the neo-conservative moment), especially when these criticisms, warranted or not, get magnified in the media to the point conservatives like David Brooks salivating over yet another round of left recrimination. It is not very often we see a no-holds barred anti-imperialist and anti-ecocidal fight especially in an epic blockbuster, and I am pleasantly surprised the film didn’t pull any punches in that area.

    I mean, christ, fighting imperialism is job for everyone and if a films like this help people feel sympathy for the cause even one iota, I am happy, and will gladly support it, warts and all. But if one were to label this racist, then one would have to chuck out a hell of a lot of good films that have proved inspiring in the past.

    Comment by ceti — January 14, 2010 @ 7:07 am

  30. As for Last Samurai, that is also a bit more historical nuance as Tom Cruise’s character doesn’t lead the samurai, but only serves as a messenger from Ken Watanabe’s character to the Emperor, which of all things, gives him the strength to reject American designs on Japan. It is partly about his personal redemption, of finally doing to the right things as he saw fit, and then quietly fading into history. In Glory (by Edward Zwick as well), there were some uncomfortable scenes contrasting the disciplined 54th and the volunteers that went about plundering the town of Darien, and Matthew Broderick’s role as Robert Gould Shaw was pronounced, but they made sense historically as did the coda at the end where all the dead, both black and white, were buried together. Moving to the Mission, which the Vatican has rated as one of its top films, you have the story of redemption again for Robert De Niro’s character.

    The big theme running throughout is feelings of guilt and the need for redemption. I think it is uncharitable to think that this cannot lead to self-reflection and change and open up new paths for struggle. That’s a start — Avatar deviates from all these by presenting a fantasy victory. Sometimes that simply guilty pleasure is enjoyable on its own.

    As for the nuances of movement building and resistance, the best film on this is probably Che. Che is in someways the archetypical outsider like John Brown and his cinematic variants, a white Argentinian who became a legend in Cuba and tried to export revolution to Congo and Bolivia. We venerate him today, but he failed in his time, and it is real movements and real leaders emerging from the masses that are finally achieving his dream from Venezuela to Bolivia.

    Comment by ceti — January 14, 2010 @ 7:27 am

  31. The US under-18 population is less than 50 % white. Yet I suspect that as the U.S. becomes more diverse and non-white it will retain its imperialist character. There are some other things at work here.

    Comment by purple — January 14, 2010 @ 11:29 am

  32. It seems to me that no critique, if valid, should be ignored on the grounds that “its a good cause,” or “it mostly sends the right message.” There is no question that there are a lot of movies more racist than this, but really, that is neither here nor there. The problem is, racism is defined in America as being the ideology of “the bad guys” instead of a social reality that is pervasive in our society.

    Nor should any critique automatically mean that the movie is “bad,” that no one should see it, or that there isn’t a lot that can be taken from the movie. There are some things I could go on for hours about how good they are, and then go on about their flaws.

    Comment by Lee — January 14, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

  33. One point has been overlooked here. Any protagonist must allow the audience to identify with him or her. This is a constant challenge to science fiction writers eager to make heroes out of the unrecognizable. For a mass American audience, a human, preferably English-speaking protagonist is absolutely indicated — especially when the film requires so huge a response to redeem its half-billion dollar investment. This simple fact also helps explain the sheer number of WS movies on offer over the years, very notably the Costner, Cruise, and Jimmy Stewart models – which also required star-power to succeed. Otherwise, it will be well to remember that this is basically a dopy movie made for a dopy audience. It cannot be otherwise, given the finances. However, it is a dopy movie with a good heart, a feisty ideological thrust, and a spectacular look. This dope has seen it twice so far.

    Comment by J. Marlin — January 14, 2010 @ 3:29 pm

  34. And this is why I don’t generally flagellate myself with reading this blog author’s film reviews. Here we have his approval for a liberal anti-imperialist film which falls into the tired old trap of noble savage orientalizing racism. He’s done worse.

    The last time I seriously read his reviews I saw him give halfassed approval for Sergei Balabanov’s Cargo 200, despite the film being ostensibly Czarist reactionary, on the grounds that it exposes the corruption and debauchery of the late Soviet Union.

    FYI Balabanov’s other films, such as Brat (Brother), which coined the famous line “you ain’t my brother, you black ass” that’s become something of a cultural meme for Russians, and Brat 2, which is all about how black people control White Americans through violence and welfare checks, should leave no doubt in any leftist’s mind where this director is coming from.

    But back to Avatar and briefly. James Cameron is a racist prick who can only love “natives” when they’re nice and primitive–this is the same guy who directed True Lies and wrote Rambo II. Avatar ought to be compared to something like Lawrence of Arabia, but even that film didn’t play up the Mighty Whitey trope (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MightyWhitey) to this ridiculous degree. The handicapped, emotionally damaged white marine can literally do anything and everything better than the navi. At least the bumbling Costner character in Dances with Wolves could never become Sioux and was in the end an outsider to the tribe–at least the film had some decency to be humble.

    There’s something to be said for the question of volume. In Hollywood, almost every film involving a liberation struggle involves a white male protagonist. To sort of paraphrase David Walsh, the anti-imperialist themes are stretched so broad and the depictions of the Navi so patronizing that they don’t stimulate any real critique or deeper understanding of the present-day. For those of you versed in history, you may know that during the height of Jackson’s Indian removal, the play Metamora, starring Edwin Forrest as the heroic Indian chieftain resisting British imperialism, was sweeping the country. It was the most popular play of the decade. All this is to show that there is no inherent contradiction between genocide and the noble savage because the noble savage is an ideal type, never to be realized in reality. In reality, “real natives” like Arabs and Vietnamese (ie True Lies, Rambo II) can still be killed with impunity.

    As for the point of John Brown, I will say that he didn’t engage in one of Holloywood’s most offensive tropes–that of a white man who bones his way to a liberal racial epiphany.

    Comment by cad — January 14, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  35. To sort of paraphrase David Walsh

    That says it all…

    Comment by louisproyect — January 14, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

  36. Well, certainly, I find his reviews far more impressive and informative from a political and historical angle. And no matter what criticisms you have of him, I’m sure that he wouldn’t be caught giving praise to a reactionary Russian film director who harps on welfare queens bringing America down.

    Comment by cad — January 14, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

  37. I think that David writes some interesting reviews but he lacks a sense of humor and is overly didactic. This is not to speak of some utterly batty beliefs in things like 9/11 being an inside job and the American SWP leaders being CIA agents.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 14, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

  38. One of my favorite scenes in any film is when Jose Dolores refuses William Walker’s bequest of freedom at the end of Pontecrovo’s Queimada. What Jose Dolores and John Brown understood, and what sets him apart from so many of his abolitionist contemporaries, was that freedom is only freedom when it is taken; not given. Brown wanted to inspire a salve uprising, because he knew only the slaves could free themselves. Far from being a “white savior”, Brown’s aim was to give weapons and sanctuary to slaves that they might strike a blow.

    Comment by Rustbelt Radical — January 14, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

  39. Nurse/”artist” mother + engineer father is an all-too-perfect formula for James Cameron’s work, not only because it’s thoroughly petty bourgeois.

    Louis, you (correctly, in my opinion) condemn Crash, but praise Avatar, when it seems to me that Paul Haggis and James Cameron express pretty much the same spirit–the spirit of social democracy, if you like. With all due respect, is it possible you let yourself be overcome by the spectacle, fantasy, and/or moralism?

    Perhaps we should also be comparing Avatar to Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (which I admittedly loved when I saw it in the theatre). That film too is eco-friendly, most sympathetic to the rain forest natives, and against imperialism (Mayan, not Spanish). And similarly for Braveheart. And neither of those films posits a white man going native. But there’s also no doubt that Gibson is reactionary, if not proto- or quasi-fascist.

    Comment by Alex — January 14, 2010 @ 8:29 pm

  40. One of my favorite scenes in any film is when Jose Dolores refuses William Walker’s bequest of freedom at the end of Pontecrovo’s Queimada.

    HOW MANY FUCKING TIMES DO I HAVE TO MAKE THIS POINT? THE COMPARISON IS NOT BETWEEN JAMES CAMERON AND GILLES PONTECORVO. IT IS BETWEEN JAMES CAMERON AND MICHAEL BAY OR JERRY BRUCKHEIMER. YOU RADICALS ARE LIVING IN A COCOON.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 14, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

  41. Louis, you (correctly, in my opinion) condemn Crash, but praise Avatar, when it seems to me that Paul Haggis and James Cameron express pretty much the same spirit–the spirit of social democracy, if you like.

    Of course. The problem is that Haggis (and Clint Eastwood, who makes the same kinds of movies) are crushing bores.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 14, 2010 @ 9:22 pm

  42. Louis,

    I wasn’t comparing Pontecorvo to Cameron; I was comparing Dolores to John Brown. I have no strong opinion on Avatar at all, other than it was pretty badly written. I am actually more sympathetic to your take than the detractors, so before you go trying to make up enemies you don’t have, chill.

    RR

    Comment by Rustbelt Radical — January 14, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

  43. I also thought Rustbelt’s view was sympathetic to Proyect’s take, as am I, since exactly what criteria has to met for an anti-plundering eco-conscious theme to meet the approval of the post-modern grad student “sustainability” crowd anyway?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 14, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

  44. http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/261595/january-13-2010/movies-that-are-destroying-america—avatar-edition

    I think my problem with a movie like this is how incredibly fantastical it is (not a compliment). I would get the same value for it as i get from Disney movies like The Lion King or Alladin, can be very enjoyable, and could score few earnest political points, but I’m not gonna shell the bills to see it in the theater, that’s just me.
    I feel the whole CGI evolution has made movie making simpler and movie production harder, the fact that this new movie making technology has produced, almost exclusively, fantasy films just shows that this medium is yet to garner a wide range of ideas from directors, why bother when the production was so unbefreakinleivably expensive.
    I fell asleep during Waterworld, but it never happened to me during Alladin.

    Comment by Michael T — January 15, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

  45. The left needs to stop falling into the trap of thinking that fighting against the bad guys makes you a good guy. No. The earth rapers in Avatar certainly are the bad guys, but guess what: Jake Sully is the bad guy too. John Brown put his conscience and sense of justice above everything else in the world and was perfectly willing to die for his beliefs. The idea that this has anything in common with the spoiled brat that is Jake Sully is ridiculous, and requires a very selective memory of the film: he has a great deal to gain from joining the Na’vi, and does, and when he had the chance to actually do something that would have mattered, he chose instead to benefit from being on both sides at once, to the Na’vi’s profound detriment.

    The idea that this has anything to do with the kind of principles that motivated John Brown seems pretty weak to me.

    Comment by zunguzungu — January 15, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

  46. Having yet to see Avatar, I do not want to delve into its merits or problems without viewing the film. Nevertheless, I am uncomfortable with the idea of comparing fictional characters to the likes of John Brown, a real life hero who did more to strike at the heart of slavery as anyone in this country since Nat Turner. This is something I take personally because I make sure that my students know who John Brown is when I cover social movements in my classes, and it never ceases to amaze me how few of my undergraduate students (north and south) have heard of him, but they will surely know who Jake Sully is or a fictional hero in a movie. Still, that does not diminish the other debates about this film, the proper judgment of which will have to await my eventual matinee ticket purchase.

    Comment by TA — January 17, 2010 @ 7:17 am

  47. Lou,

    /There’s no debating/ I’ve been *starving to death*, “by and by”. An ‘apodicticity’. Many famous precursors. Duh.

    Comment by Jeffrey Daniel Rubard — January 17, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

  48. well looks like i’ll have to go and watch it.

    It is time that a good, sympathetic film was made about John Brown or even a popular well-written book or pamphlet (if ther eis one please let me know). just reading about him last year made me think that the left has done him a disservice by not making him better known (at least outside of the US).

    “Let America know and ponder on this: there is something more frightening than Cain killing Abel, and that is Washington killing Spartacus.” Victor Hugo

    Comment by keefer — January 17, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

  49. Tarantino as John Brown?

    just came across this on wiki

    “Director Quentin Tarantino has expressed interest in writing, directing, and starring in a film about John Brown, as stated in interviews with Charlie Rose in 2007 and 2009. Tarantino described Brown as his favorite historical figure, and drew notice to an apparent resemblance between the two.”

    Comment by keefer — January 17, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

  50. Just one more note on this dead debate. Cameron is racist. He directed True Lies. Until he repudiates that, he’s just another dickwad.

    To acknowledge that Avatar is racist in ways that are, ultimately, products of the material reality of the U.S.A. — i.e., racism and genocide from 1492 until today — is not a return to cheap identity politics). Indeed, those who are moping about “culture wars” and the like are precisely the ones resorting to cheap identity politics — because, really, one could make a argument that Trotskyism led to neo-conservatism, too; and that’s just really, really stupid, not to mention idealist. If you can’t figure out why racist content is wrong, regardless of how anti-imperialist the form is, then you need to go back and figure out your historical materialism.

    Comment by noaman — January 18, 2010 @ 8:19 am

  51. Xinhua about the response in China of Avatar:

    “But in China, the story has aroused a sympathetic response among many spectators, as they see in the film a familiar social conflict — forced demolitions by real estate developers and urban administrative inspectors.”

    From:
    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2010-01/15/c_13137265.htm

    Comment by Johannes Schneider — January 19, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

  52. Eminent Domain is like a localized version of Manifest Destiny.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 19, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

  53. Any news on the 3d s w movies?

    Comment by jason — January 20, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

  54. Cheap identity politics lives on though. The debacle of the Democratic primaries is case in point where racial and gender signifiers were deployed strategically to drive the candidacies of two very corporate candidates. And the counterreaction that relies on majority identity markers was just as fearsome in rallying the white working class for the likes of Palin. In both cases, identity politics at its most shallow level was front and centre. And while the debate amongst the academic left is more “sophisticated” (although that’s debatable), it has fed this beast, just as victimology was usurped by America itself in the post-911 period to go on its mega rampage.

    However, at least in Avatar, the imperial trajectory is tentatively hashed out, yet with the repeat of the Columbian moment overturned by near chance due to rebellion on the occupier’s side. Indeed, if it weren’t for Trudy Chacon, it’d be Hispaniola all over again.

    Comment by ceti — January 20, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

  55. as just a normal guy i have to agree more with louis. im not incredibly smart, and all these critiques ive read are awfully intellectual, im starting to understand where right wingers get the idea of the dreaded ”elite” – some of these are so in depth that it’s clear to me you’re all so very far away from where normal americans are. i dont think i would often say something so arrogant, as if i know what real america is more than someone else, but the level of understanding of imperialism and this movies relation to it are so incredibly alien to what i think most of us in good old ”middle america” are really thinking. the biggest thing that i feel is wrong with the majority of americans is that we just dont care enough to think this much about war and foreign policy. the iraq war just doesnt mean a whole lot when it’s so so so far away, we dont have to think about it a whole lot, most of me and my friends attitudes for a long time was ”well that sadaam guy is a bad dude, and i guess its good that he’s gone right?” and i guess the point im trying to make is that for normal folks like myself i would imagine any film that causes any sort of introspection and deeper understanding of these kinds of things is only a good thing right? i read a lot of good stuff at zunguzungu.wordpress.com, and i can see where this film may lead to a sort of endorsement of war and imperialism in the form of liberating the natives. but i think in general it has more of an anti imperialist tone, and i guess the net result would be more people becoming more involved and seeking out all these various reviews and critiques and hopefully developing a better understanding of the world around them. i think the michael bay to cameron comparison is fairly apt – would you rather there be a movie like Avatar that challenges some conventional wisdom and gets people like myself thinking? or would you rather i watch…”Don’t mess with the Zohan” or something. there’s an apathy towards america’s foreign policy that i think is challeneged in this movie, and i say this because i’ve recently lived it and have just begun recently to really understand imperialism and foreign policy, and im not that far removed from being one of the indifferent masses that doesnt really have any sort of fully conceptual understanding of what imperialism and war and the world around us really is. because you all can necessarily see through the flaws of the movie doesnt mean that it’s not beneficial as a starter tool for the rest of us to start the journey of getting to where you all are. the more i read about Avatar the more i learn. it’s not long ago that if i saw something as ”radical” as words like ”marxist” or ”imperialism” i would have just shrugged it off as ”bs” because of sheer ignorance, i wouldnt have even paid any attention to any sort of discussion relating to these matters. i don’t think the worldview that many reviewers and critics of Avatar have can be jumped into easily from where your average american sits, it’s a gradual thing for most of us i would imagine. sorry for my rambling, hope i made some sense.

    Comment by thomas — January 21, 2010 @ 2:37 am

  56. from SLATE:
    James Cameron’s “Avatar” Banned in China

    Avatar was expected to earn in the neighborhood of $70 million at the
    Chinese box office after premiering later this month, but it has been
    replaced with a patriotic biopic on the life of Confucius, reported
    the Daily Telegraph. While not officially banned, the state-run China
    Film Group ordered theaters to only show the 3-D version of the movie,
    an order that effectively bans Avatar in a country with very few 3-D
    screens. Censors were reportedly worried that the plot of the film
    would lead to civil unrest, as the plight of the Na’vi, Cameron’s blue
    aliens, has been compared to that of Chinese who have been victims of
    predatory property developers.

    original story in Daily Telegraph | Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010

    Comment by charles — January 22, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  57. Prairie Miller , Peoples’World movie critic, and Louis Pro, what a combination , United Front aesthetics (smile)

    Comment by charles — January 22, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

  58. […] also Louis Proyect for more on this controversy, and for a view endorsing the critique that Avatar is racist see […]

    Pingback by SOCIALIST UNITY » AVATAR AGAINST IMPERIALISM — January 25, 2010 @ 11:02 am

  59. Theres nothing racist in AVATAR…jake Sully is chosen by EYWA, his role as Toruk Makto was also chosen not by him, but given , as can be seen in a scene in the script, where he gets a totem: his TOTEM is the Toruk.
    When he arrives again at the Tree of Souls, he asks permission of Tsuytey, new clan chief, to speak…he calls together the other Oumaticaya to join him in a defence of their world.
    He is always respectful of the na’vi…never the bullying white man.
    Prerevolutionasry america: many whites joined the native americans, as explained in the book: White Indians.

    Why use a white man at all? because he is our way into Na’vi culture…as he learns we learn….

    Why jake? because he is the least ‘ecucated’ (cup still part empty) so most open to learning…He is also new, so not inbued with the RDA values…

    also AVATAR NOT banned in china,…the 2D was dropped from theaters, to make way for Confucious,but is back on in cinemas.

    Yes Cameron did direct True Lies….but that was ages ago…AVATAR is poles apart from True Lies

    Comment by brian — January 30, 2010 @ 3:42 am

  60. Naomi Wolf article on AVATAR

    http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/wolf20

    also

    Avatar: A Parable About The Encounter Between Capitalism And Indigenous Peoples

    http://www.countercurrents.org/hensman290110.htm

    Comment by brian — January 30, 2010 @ 3:47 am

  61. reading some of the comments, and articles elsewhere, AVATAR is to be congratulated in uniting left and right, if only in mutual disdain!Or exposing once more the dangers of humorless ideologies.

    AVATAT is fabulous, and has exposed millions of real people to ideas theyd likely never encounter….and woulnt if left and right had their way.

    Comment by brian — January 30, 2010 @ 3:50 am

  62. Not quite, Brain (or is it Brian) because the AVATAT (or is it AVATAR) film you describe is hardly disdained by the left, which has a tiny handful of critics, whereas on the right there’s a wholesale disgust with the revolutionary implications of this film — so there’s hardly any uniting of the opposed camps, unless, of course, you’re reffering to the 2 party kleptocracy that owns this country, in which case there’s always a bipartisan consensus on shafting the toiling masses, so much so that working people are slowly but surely learning to hold on to their wallets & pocketbooks anytime the commercial press starts bandying about that sickening word “bipartisan.”

    Where you have a real uniting of the Liberals & Conservatives is on NAFTA, Troop Escalations, Pentagon Expenditures, Predator Drones, Bank Bailouts and chickenshit health care reform.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 30, 2010 @ 7:03 am

  63. Before Avatar, there was The Green Beautiful

    I can’t recommend this film enough. I would love to own it, but it’s
    only available in the original French, and I’m not yet programmed to
    understand that language.

    The story centers on the people who live telepathically and in tune
    with nature. It begins with a call for volunteers for a trip to the
    earth where they’ve not been for 200 years. No one volunteers
    initially until one woman finally agrees to go.

    When she arrives in Paris, her magical powers cause havoc, inspiration
    and a series of very humorous moments. I had no intention of watching
    the whole 9 segments, but couldn’t stop! Enjoy!

    http://www.youtube.com/user/TheGreenBeautiful

    M W

    Comment by charles — January 31, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

  64. I will submit that I did find the film Avatar somewhat refreshing, enjoyable, and to some extent provocative as a surprising deviation from the norm. As evidence, after perhaps an hour or so into the film, if we follow our emotional compass we are able to determine which side filmmakers want us to be on, inasmuch as we’re dealing with invasion, greed, pillage, violation of a people’s sovereignty, etc. Moreover, the allusion to the state as the main purveyor of exported terrorism is evident in the narrative. We are indeed privy to the colonization, occupation, invasion, intervention and massacre of the people of any of the following regions: Asia, Africa, or both Americas.

    The complication in the story, however, arises in light of the fact that to the extent that the main character is actually rendered and realized in a manner that tends to conform in some ways to the propagandistic and official storyline, or poetic conceit, of the larger-than-life hero, predominantly white, male, bourgeois savior, emancipator and liberator (are we in biblical territory here?) of those not fortunate enough to have true representation. Interestingly enough, one could also argue that regardless of Sully’s social background, he is after all an agent of gloom and doom at the service of an oppressive imperial power hell-bent on inflicting pain and suffering, for as long as their wishes are fulfilled through “wars without end.” Besides, if the narrative claims to be rooting for the underprivileged and underdog, why
    would it insist on following and conforming to the same banal and condescending trappings? Furthermore, I must confess to a nagging trepidation I’m guilty of: that despite the good merits we may be able
    to ascribe to the film (and there are a few), I could not help wondering if indeed it would not be too much of a stretch to lend credence to the suspicion that despite the apparent objectivity of the narrative,
    we are being sold a bill of goods purporting to be in support of the many causes and struggles of Third World nations. And why would so much effort go into developing a story where the chief concern has more to do with the well being of the able “hero” while the Na’vi come across as
    merely a bunch of blue creatures only good at rituals and constantly flying hither and thither with no apparent recourse to developing a strategy, let alone an ability to at least organize and think for themselves?

    Which in the end, leads to a pertinent question worth asking as well: why aren’t the Na’vi people capable of functioning by themselves– or seen actively doing so more often at least– whenever Sully’s movements are interrupted, or cannot otherwise manifest himself or be beamed to them, because at the moment he happens to be out of the chamber and busy with other related task? Would that they were endowed with well-deserved and overdue courage (as part of the script), willpower and self-determination oftentimes lacking in the story. The very idea does
    seem somehow suspect and betrays a consistently condescending and patronizing attitude on the part of the filmmakers, intentionally or not. That may have been a risky proposition financially, but at least this narrative would have stood out completely from the rampant, tedious, bigoted, and outrageously absurd fantasies we’ve been exposed to constantly via such an otherwise promising medium with immense social potential.

    Comment by francisco — February 2, 2010 @ 1:42 am

  65. Which in the end, leads to a pertinent question worth asking as well: why aren’t the Na’vi people capable of functioning by themselves– or seen actively doing so more often at least– whenever Sully’s movements are interrupted, or cannot otherwise manifest himself or be beamed to them, because at the moment he happens to be out of the chamber and busy with other related task?

    Because James Cameron is not Gilles Pontecorvo.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 2, 2010 @ 2:09 am

  66. the green beautful is in english on youtube:

    Comment by brian — February 3, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

  67. ‘Which in the end, leads to a pertinent question worth asking as well: why aren’t the Na’vi people capable of functioning by themselves– or seen actively doing so more often at least– whenever Sully’s movements are interrupted, or cannot otherwise manifest himself or be beamed to them, because at the moment he happens to be out of the chamber and busy with other related task’

    this is laughable….its a story about jake sully, his journey…thru him we learn of the na’vi their ways and a mhyriad of problems and differences …jake allows the sudience also to switch sides…

    without him youd be stuck with introducuing the na’vi….to a largev enough sudience….

    in any case, its camerons story….go write your own…good luck with funding…

    Comment by brian — February 3, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

  68. WILL AVATAR’S PRO-INDIGENOUS NARRATIVE BOTHER OSCAR VOTERS?
    By Mitu Sengupta, AlterNet
    James Cameron’s science fiction blockbuster Avatar is
    nominated for nine Academy Awards. But should we worry about
    its controversial racial politics?

    http://www.alternet.org/story/145490/will_avatar%27s_pro-indigenous_narrative_bother_oscar_voters

    Comment by charles — February 3, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

  69. I think it’s a good entertaining movie with a clear anti-imperialist and ecologist message, not bad for a movie that is being viewed woldwide.

    I’m not american, but I think that hardly could Cameron have done a movie from the point of view of indigenous people when he is not one of them, it’s not bad that ‘white’ (or western) people has simphaties for opressed peoples, this film is for western public, and the first work of left is to tell own people to not support imperialist wars of his own country and understand resistence.

    PD It’s some sad thing that you all talk about ‘Dances with wolves’ and similar 90s films and not about ‘Lawrence of arabia’.

    (Sorry for my bad english)

    Comment by reader — February 4, 2010 @ 9:08 am

  70. Hello Reader:

    You said: “PD It’s some sad thing that you all talk about ‘Dances with wolves’ and similar 90s films and not about ‘Lawrence of arabia’.”

    I mentioned Lawrence of Arabia above:

    Anyway, how about Lawrence of Arabia, “The White Man’s Burden”.

    Comment by charles — January 13, 2010 @ 10:12 pm

    Comment by charles — February 4, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

  71. Rightwinger David Brooks makes the anti-white supremacy argument. Go figure. (smile)

    January 8, 2010
    Op-Ed Columnist
    The Messiah Complex
    By DAVID BROOKS
    Readers intending to watch the movie “Avatar” should know that major events in the plot are revealed.

    Every age produces its own sort of fables, and our age seems to have produced The White Messiah fable.

    This is the oft-repeated story about a manly young adventurer who goes into the wilderness in search of thrills and profit. But, once there, he meets the native people and finds that they are noble and spiritual and pure. And so he emerges as their Messiah, leading them on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization.

    Avid moviegoers will remember “A Man Called Horse,” which began to establish the pattern, and “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” More people will have seen “Dances With Wolves” or “The Last Samurai.”

    Kids have been given their own pure versions of the fable, like “Pocahontas” and “FernGully.”

    It’s a pretty serviceable formula. Once a director selects the White Messiah fable, he or she doesn’t have to waste time explaining the plot because everybody knows roughly what’s going to happen.

    The formula also gives movies a little socially conscious allure. Audiences like it because it is so environmentally sensitive. Academy Award voters like it because it is so multiculturally aware. Critics like it because the formula inevitably involves the loincloth-clad good guys sticking it to the military-industrial complex.

    Yet of all the directors who have used versions of the White Messiah formula over the years, no one has done so with as much exuberance as James Cameron in “Avatar.”

    “Avatar” is a racial fantasy par excellence. The hero is a white former Marine who is adrift in his civilization. He ends up working with a giant corporation and flies through space to help plunder the environment of a pristine planet and displace its peace-loving natives.

    The peace-loving natives — compiled from a mélange of Native American, African, Vietnamese, Iraqi and other cultural fragments — are like the peace-loving natives you’ve seen in a hundred other movies. They’re tall, muscular and admirably slender. They walk around nearly naked. They are phenomenal athletes and pretty good singers and dancers.

    The white guy notices that the peace-loving natives are much cooler than the greedy corporate tools and the bloodthirsty U.S. military types he came over with. He goes to live with the natives, and, in short order, he’s the most awesome member of their tribe. He has sex with their hottest babe. He learns to jump through the jungle and ride horses. It turns out that he’s even got more guts and athletic prowess than they do. He flies the big red bird that no one in generations has been able to master.

    Along the way, he has his consciousness raised. The peace-loving natives are at one with nature, and even have a fiber-optic cable sticking out of their bodies that they can plug into horses and trees, which is like Horse Whispering without the wireless technology. Because they are not corrupted by things like literacy, cellphones and blockbuster movies, they have deep and tranquil souls.

    The natives help the white guy discover that he, too, has a deep and tranquil soul.

    The natives have hot bodies and perfect ecological sensibilities, but they are natural creatures, not history-making ones. When the military-industrial complex comes in to strip mine their homes, they need a White Messiah to lead and inspire the defense.

    Our hero leaps in, with the help of a pack of dinosaurs summoned by Mother Earth. As he and his fellow freedom fighters kill wave after wave of Marines or former Marines or whatever they are, he achieves the ultimate prize: He is accepted by the natives and can spend the rest of his life in their excellent culture.

    Cameron’s handling of the White Messiah fable is not the reason “Avatar” is such a huge global hit. As John Podhoretz wrote in The Weekly Standard, “Cameron has simply used these familiar bromides as shorthand to give his special-effects spectacular some resonance.” The plotline gives global audiences a chance to see American troops get killed. It offers useful hooks on which McDonald’s and other corporations can hang their tie-in campaigns.

    Still, would it be totally annoying to point out that the whole White Messiah fable, especially as Cameron applies it, is kind of offensive?

    It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.

    It’s just escapism, obviously, but benevolent romanticism can be just as condescending as the malevolent kind — even when you surround it with pop-up ferns and floating mountains.

    Comment by charles — February 4, 2010 @ 4:02 pm


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