Posts Tagged ‘anthropologist’

Spoiler Alert – if you’re planning to go see Avatar you may want to stop reading now…. 🙂

Last week I read a post called “When Will White People Stop Making Movies like Avatar”. So I went into the movie this past Friday with some preconceptions.  Yesterday I read another post on this topic by David Brooks in the New York Times.

Though I found a great deal of truth to these writers’ opinions, consider substituting “White” with “American” (or as my more politically correct friends would remind me “United States of American”).  It seems to me that the film could have easily have cast an American of any race in the role of Jake Sully, and the story would have remained pretty much the same.  The issue for me is not about color, it’s about the American way of life.

What I saw in the film was a basic characterizing of Americans and America. It showed a stereotype of the US, distilled down to basic qualities (which I kind of agree with) of capitalism/greed, militarism/violence, science/distance from nature, fear mongering/terrorism as an excuse for isolation, exploration/curiosity, advanced technology/creativity, courage/entrepreneurialism, and a strong need by individual Americans to belong/to be liked by other cultures.

From this perspective, the color/race of the hero is inconsequential as long as he is American.  It could have just as easily been a non-white actor playing Sully.  (Though I’m not sure substituting a woman would have the same effect).  Try, for example, to replay the movie in your head with Cuba Gooding Jr. playing the lead.  I think it comes out pretty much the same.  I really don’t think it’s about race; it’s about the “American Way.”

Having said that, I was really disappointed at the way that the Na’vi were given a noble savage role in the film and the American was the hero.  I would have liked to see the Na’vi themselves deal with the American intrusion (Neytiri, the main female character says her great grandfather organized the clans to join together many years ago – why not now?).  I would have liked to see some equal amount of character development on both sides of the conflict (I even had to look up the name of the main female character to write this as I couldn’t remember it).

It was annoying that Jake Sully was the only one daring and brave enough to consider jumping on the big red bird, and that this immediately made all the Na’vi bow down and accept him as their leader (and this is one place where the American male fantasy part really comes in – ha, my dad loved this part!).  And why is it Sully who goes to pray to the tree of life, to Ehwa, and it’s not the shaman or the lead Na’vi warrior? At the same time I had to chuckle at how in spite of all this, Sully keeps having to pronounce to everyone “I’m one of you.” Insecure much?

One interesting point that the movie made me think about was the use of anthropologists/social scientists in conflict. Anthropologists (as I can personally attest) have a tendency to cross over to the other side [‘go native’], so I’m not sure what good they will do for the military if the US engages them in war zones, unless we are talking about a very different kind of anthropologist than the ones I’m used to.

I guess I would have liked a movie about the Na’vi and Pandora, with no violent, burning machine vs nature battle scenes and no Americans involved at all.  Well, then again, that film might have turned out like Apocalypto, whose portrayal of the Maya made me want to vomit….  Maybe I just need to stop going to see Hollywood films.

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