Have you folks heard about the “Is Avatar Racist?” debate? Apparently, there are some people out there who felt that the film reinforced racial stereotypes by depicting a white man saving a ‘native’ non-white alien culture that is obviously incapable of saving itself. An insensitivity compounded by the fact that the aliens are coloured blue, are shown to be primitive, mystical and, while not quite Luddites, reasonably pro-nature – enough to make them anti-technology. Oh, and did I forget to mention that these aliens are clothed in loincloths and the like, and communicate with their equivalent of the earth-mother through some swaying and ritualistic chanting under a magical tree?
The whites, on the other hand, have space-travel, robot technology, cryonics and the ability to artificially create the bodies of the aliens. And a white man saves the alien race.
This was enough to set 0ff the sensitive, politically-correct mobs out there. Cameron has been accused of racial stereotyping.
But that’s just crap, isn’t it? Yeah, yeah, I know, words are sensitive, depictions like this are part of the cultural arrogance of the white race that seeks to impose its view of history on all of us yada yada yada. But is the accusation of racism in this specific instance really justified?
Because if the accusers had thought this ridiculous campaign through, they would have realised that James Cameron actually had no choice when it came to depicting the warring races on Pandora. Given the fact that his choices were limited because Avatar is so clearly a re-packaged and re-contextualised amalgamation of Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai, what else could he do? Any other combination or depiction he could have shown would still have been met with shrill howls of protest from the same politically correct people out there.
Let us look at the possible options Cameron had in the depiction of the two races in Avatar:
White Colonisers & White Aliens: Did anyone seriously think Cameron would get away with this? We would have been inundated with comments like “…coloured people (black, brown etc) do not exist for Hollywood…”, “Yet another example of Hollywood’s white-centric attitude”, and “…in the year of America’s first black president, it is a shame that Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster continued the tradition of exclusion of non-whites”. The best, of course, would be a headline somewhere that screams: “White Hollywood cannot find Non-White life even in Outer Space”. (Fuck, but I’m good at this bad-writing shit, aren’t I? 🙂 )
Non-White Colonisers & White Aliens: This option would really have Cameron hauled over the coals. Because this is “malicious tampering with history.” Or, as some more jargon-prone columnists would have it, “Cameron tries to reverse-engineer history…” Perhaps even something like “In sheer defiance of centuries of recorded history and the rape of indigenous peoples worldwide by the white race, Cameron chooses to deny the Holocaust, as it were, by showing the non-whites as the big bad wolves, making mincemeat of the terrified white lambs”. (Wah Wah! even if I say so myself) Oprah would have done an outraged episode on this one that would have seriously dented Avatar’s business.
Non-White Colonisers and Non-White Aliens: This would again be seen as partially re-writing history to show whites in a favourable light. If I could coin a term for this (my contribution to movie-inspired socio-anthropological revisionist history?), Cameron would be accused of The Apocalypto Fallacy. Basically, this theory states that it wasn’t the whites that screwed native populations. It was the non-white natives themselves. They battled each other throughout history and allegedly have a far bloodier – and brutal – record than the whites. But, as some outraged blogger might write, “..such a visualisation seems to absolve whites of the colonisation, oppression and extermination of native races…” (Yup, still so bad I’m actually good!)
In short, whatever depiction Cameron chose, he would still have been skewered. The PC brigade would have been out to get him no matter what. So, unless he had made Avatar with robots as characters, or as an animated film with tigers and lambs, these people would have found it racist, no matter what.
For the record, I thought Avatar sucked. It had no story, and after the first 30 minutes, I was bored of the technical wizardry and the “new world”. Yes, Cameron is guilty – but he’s guilty of making a bad film. Not of racism.
You may also want to read my other post on the ridiculous extremes Political Correctness is heading towards.