Fux Yo’ Avatar!

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Editor’s note: Along with their massive opening weekend receipts the movie ‘Avatar’ has garnered some pretty good criticism. I read a nice drop on Combat Jack’s page and then I read this essay from our friend the GrandMaster over at his site. Not only does the Grandmaster represent for kicks and comics, her also puts it down for social justice. I asked him if I could kindly reprint his drop on this page because it needs to get as many eyeballs as possible. So without any further ado…

Avatar: James Cameron’s colonial – racist – fantasy

If you read no other entrythat I ever write, please read this.

Why?

This is an important one.

I’m sure that some – many – of you are used to me talking about racism by this point. You may have wondered:

Why is race such an issue for Jason? Does he see racism in everything?

Well, no. Not everything. But almost everything.

Can’t he just get over it?

Maybe I could; but I won’t.

I want to share how I see racism manifest in places that others don’t; and why I am not willing to “get over it”. Regardless of whether or not you agree with me: please hear me out.

What Are You Talking About, And Why?

What prompts this? Well, over the past couple days, I’ve been reading various commentaries [warning: both links have spoilers] on the current 20th Century Fox blockbuster, James Cameron’s Avatar, and I thought that it might serve as an excellent example of how racial – racist – beliefs are interwoven into our daily lives, and exactly why I think it’s so important to call them out when we see them.

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen Avatar yet. I was, for a while, eagerly anticipating it, especially as I saw advance reviews – from reputable sources like Roger Ebert – excitedly calling it the best new sci-fi property in decades. But in the course of reading through various blogs and reviews, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the film’s themes, and sought out more information, hoping to be proved wrong, or at least have doubts allayed. This did not happen.

Just what are these troubling themes? Well, let’s take a quick look at the narrative arc: it doesn’t ruin the story to say that the film is about a race of peace- and nature-loving alien natives, who come under attack from menacing, technologically-advanced humans wanting to plunder their world. But, just as all seems lost, salvation for the natives comes from the most unlikely quarter: a human soldier who switches sides because, get this, he realizes how awesome the natives are. [Slight spoiler:] He woos their princess, out-competes their best warrior – her fiance – and takes headship of their tribes to lead them in battle against the evil imperialistic humans.

This lone hero, savior of the colored (literally) folk, is, of course, a Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon man.

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In fact, all the primary Human roles are cast White, except for Latina Michelle Rodriguez, typecast as a scrappy soldier, and a single Indian-American, Dileep Rao, cast as – shocker – a scientist. The primary speaking Na’vi roles, on the other hand – the native people – are all filled by people of color, including Black, African, and Cherokee actors.

I’ve Heard This Story Before…

Avatar‘s story is, at heart, familiar. From the innocuous (Superman) to the insidious (The White Man’s Burden), this metanarrative underlies much of Western thought: a community’s salvation coming in the personal form of an outsider savior. Nothing is wrong with this version of the story and, in fact, it can be argued that it is derived from the Christian story, a narrative I cherish with great regard [1]. But what happens to the concept of a savior-from-outside when we write ourselves into the role of the savior? This is the root of Colonialist thought: when we begin to see ourselves as that outsider-savior figure, and see native peoples as fundamentally noble but backwards. These good-hearted but incapable (whether technologically, morally, socially, etc.) natives need someone else to map out their progress, and we do so by setting them on the path of integration into Us-ness.

This is the Colonialist story: they advance if we force ourselves on them. The twisted logic echoes the rationalizations of the overbearing boss, the abusive spouse, and even serial rapists.

Hold on, though. What I’m describing doesn’t quite match what Cameron plots out in Avatar, does it? In fact, he is writing precisely the opposite kind of story: in Avatar, the literal colonizers – humans toting Science, Technology, and magnificently-rendered spaceships – are the bad guys. How is it a colonialist narrative if the protagonist turns his back on the oppressive ways of mankind and leads the Na’vi natives to victory?

Re-read that last phrase: the protagonist (who is, we are reminded, Human just like us) becomes the salvation of the native peoples.

Here, the story’s thrust becomes clear: Cameron’s Na’vi natives may be an exotic and attractive people, but they are still ultimately incapable, doomed without the leadership and capability of the Human outsider. And this is precisely the colonialist narrative, advanced to its next logical step. These more sophisticated works acknowledge the overt shortcomings of forced cultural conversion. But, in such cases, the reassurance that “we did it to them for their own good” is instead replaced by the more subtle triumph of seeing a character that we know is supposed to be dominant – a White, Male figure – rising to his natural place of leadership. As these stories draw near the end of their arcs, we can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the guy who was supposed to be the good guy, is; even if he or his people were the ones who caused the ruckus, in the end, he fixed it, atoning for his own transgressions in the process.

This is the story of white guilt, and it is a story told with increasing volume and insistence as the Eurocentric world has been brought face-to-face with the terrible legacy of the “Age of Exploration”: genocide, pestilence(more), forced relocation, massive-scale theft, and more. Unable to deny the horrors inflicted by their forebears, the descendants of colonizers had to convince themselves that they could be the exception to the ancestral rule: as their fathers had destroyed lives and cultures, they would save and value them.

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But What’s So Wrong With That?

The problem with this is that, regardless of what the theme or internal plot rationale may be, in the end, the movie presents a White Man romancing the exotic princess and proving himself superior to the best warrior in her tribe. If we are White Men, this makes us feel good about ourselves; and if we are not, we either put ourselves in his shoes, or are forced to cast ourselves as a romantic object or inferior competitor.

In the end, Avatar still places “me” – if I understand myself to be Anglo, and Male – at the center of the story. And, in it, the oppressed native is valuable not because he is, but because I tell him that he is. If the sins of my ancestors have harmed others, whatever the damage, I am the one who has the power to set it right. Parallel arcs are traced out in a few sets of identical films: Fern Gully & The Jungle Book, where the White Male saves an exotic, magical Nature from his society’s aggressive industrialization. Freedom Writers, The Blind Side, Radio, and Hardball – among many others – where an experienced, open-hearted, caring White authority figure mentors a minority kid or kids to success [2] . Films like Australia, Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, and The Last of the Mohicans, that all share two aspects: a White Male protagonist, and a dying, endangered culture whose future depends on him [3].

Of course, in our media, there are many stories of a person or culture in need, and not all can be traced to White Guilt. Films like The Patriot, Gladiator, Dirty Dancing, and Braveheart all share key aspects with the films listed above: a community in need, and a man who rises to the occasion. But notice two things about them: while heroes arise from within those cultures, the communities being portrayed in these films and others like them are exclusively Eurocentric, Western communities. Apparently, when the culture being portrayed is White, a cultural insider serves as a satisfactory hero. But, when the culture is not White – and instead Urban, Aboriginal, Native, or Japanese – then an outsider is needed to step in as savior. A White outsider.

At this point, I can well imagine someone saying: you’re talking about the media, and the media is simply in the business of providing what sells. Since most people in the country are White, it is profitable to provide protagonists to whom a White consumer base can relate [4] . It’s not about actively being a racist, but simply good business.

This objection is wrong. Is it not about race? Then name me a single film where the opposite happens, where a non-White character assimilates into a clearly White society and winds up in a position of power or leadership. I can’t think of a single one. Hold on, I have thought of one: Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis. Take that for what you will.

So, then, apparently the interests of the White consumer demographic are so strong that they completely drown out the interests of consumers of color. This is a problem for two reasons: first, if it were to be true, it is a textbook case of tyranny of the majority, where the dominant group exercises such complete power that the interests and even well-being of the minority are completely disregarded. Second, it suggests that the media believes that White audiences are incapable of doing exactly what they demand of their minority audiences: to relate to a protagonist who is not like them.

This may be good business; but it is immoral, unethical, and dangerous. It is not racist to the level of a hate crime or muttered slur, but negative public perception nurtures bias, and bias leads, in its own inexorable way, to violence.

In the end, for whatever reason, the message being communicated is that a White person – usually a man – will be a hero, regardless of whether he finds himself in his own culture or outside it. But rarely a woman; and never a person of color.

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You’re Thinking Too Much.

“Come on, Jason. They’re aliens, not minorities. Why can’t you just watch it for what it is: fun, entertaining, light action?”

Online humor site Something Awful has an article (note: about halfway through, it gets silly. But I points 1-9 are suitably insightful) pointing out how obviously Cameron cribbed bits and pieces of native peoples for the “invented” Na’vi culture, from their “primitive” weapons to piercings, tattoos, and more. And the phonetic proximity of the two terms (Na’vi + “ti” = native) makes for either an odd coincidence, or a clever – and damning – subliminal. And if it weren’t already clear enough, Cameron himself has repeatedly
drawn explicit connections between Avatar and White cultural fantasies like Dances with Wolves. He obviously wants desperately to be an auteur, producing work read as political, social, and ethnic commentary.

And, you know what, it’s almost worse if this narrative has come about unintentionally. If Cameron set out to simply make the freshest, most interesting, most entertaining work that he could, and the themes of White Guilt just happened to manifest themselves in that work, this is immense justification for the post-colonialist critic. Such a scenario signals that the co-opting of other cultures has gone so far that it has ingrained itself into the grand narrative of Western culture, deeply enough that even the production of a new mythos (and there is reason to believe that Cameron hopes for an extended universe) has the fingerprints of eurocentrism and White Guilt all over it.

In Closing,

Avatar is a problem. It seems like a great piece of entertainment: eye-popping special effects (or at least, so my sister and Roger Ebert both claim), a fun ride, the event movie of the season. But, at the same time, to buy into Avatar is to perpetuate a harmful, oppressive story that silences many in favor of further empowering those who already hold power. White Men bed the alien princesses, and defeat colored alien warriors related to her (how novel), while anyone who is not a White Man… doesn’t do anything, really, unless it’s pertinent to the actions and viewpoint of the White Man.

And make no mistake: 20th Century Fox, James Cameron, and many others have a vested interest in our literally buying into the film. With a release not more than a week ago, the film (with a shooting & promotional budget of over 500 million $USD, the most expensive in Fox’s history) has already been used to sell video games, a toy line, apparel, cross-promotional schemes, novels, and a budding franchise.

[Please comment, discuss, and share as appropriate. I am actively interested in feedback & critique.]


[1] Even if the Christian story is the original source of this trend, it has not itself been immune to whitewashing, with a White (if tanned) Jesus saving the colored Jews from their ignorance. The most recent and aggressively popularized portrayals of Jesus – Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and The Jesus Film – have seen the role of Jesus go to a Slovak-Irish American and Oxford-educated Englishman, not to mention the proliferation of decidedly Anglo, non-Semitic images of Christ. Such depictions raise few eyebrows, while portrayals of Christ as a colored man – usually Black – are still highly controversial in many Christian circles, despite African cultures and races being no more (and even perhaps less) distinct from early 1st-century Middle Eastern societies than European
analogues.

I also feel compelled, as a Christian, to mention that Jesus, in utter contrast to the narrative of cultural subversion, became (a) an insider in order to (b) redeem culture, rather than removing a fetishized culture from its context as an outsider.

[2] In this genre, there have been a few films – Akeelah and the Bee and Stand and Deliver come come to mind – that provide hope, where mentors are cast with actors of color (Laurence Fishburne and Edward James Olmos, respectively). Still problematic is the proliferation of White women in this setting; initially, it may seem to be giving prominence to a female, but ultimately it winds up simply furthering another common Western trope, that of the nurturing, caring, emotional woman in opposition to the strong, aggressive, physical man.

[3] In all of these works, I notice a strong emphasis on the uniformly White outsider protagonist being termed the Last or the Best. This hints at a quasi-Hegelian progression, where a raw and basic culture (Native tribes, Samurai ways, Nature itself) gives birth to an advanced, more-evolved organism: the White man.

[4] This is, by the way, not a justifiable argument. Increasing amounts of data are available that may indicate (has this work been done?) that upper-class White consumers, while having more disposable income, actually spend less of their available leisure resources on purchasing entertainment than other
demographics.

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80 Responses to “Fux Yo’ Avatar!”

  1. Grand Master says:

    Good lookin out, D.

    that last picture is so evocative of black/yellowface that i cant even look at it. smh.

  2. 6 100 says:

    Maybe we should write our own flicks with these themes thrown on their head.
    -Make the hipster white the bad guy.
    -Make the female honk easily attainalbe and less valuable compared to the “native” female

    Wait. Isn’t that “Blade”? Blade did OK. And Wes. S. is as far from white as possible. In fact wasn’t it a white who infected his mother and made him into a monster with an thirst that he had to supress with every fiber of his being? So was Blade the Minority version of “Avatar?”

  3. 40 says:

    Interesting read GM. I find it similar to the news I recently read about the problems Danny Glover is having getting his Toussaint L’Oveurture movie made (with Don Cheadle in the title role). Apparently the lack of a white savior (or the assistance thereof) has become the biggest critique by the international media and studio heads. I guess this also would hinder a Hannibal movie at any point as well…

  4. Ernest J. Paniccioli says:

    For the record I too have not seen Avatar AvaTarbaby. But it seems like it is part of the of the continuum of “White is Right” films from Superman to Tarzan to the most racist film I have ever seen “STARGATE” and Dallas one day ask me to do a guest drop on the hidden symbolism of the top three early horror films; Dracula/Frankenstein/Mummy. There is much more there than meets the eye. Peace, Ernie

  5. C Point says:

    From what I’ve been seeing online, thinking people seem to agree with you. I think that racism is a very complicated issue and Cameron is trying to sort it out, but fails miserably through his ignorance. Or, he wants to be “cool” and conquering racism is a cool thing to do; how much does he really care, though, beyond trying to seem insightful to others? I dunno. I think he’s just putting himself in his white protagonist’s shoes and setting himself up as a hero.

    BTW, I don’t know which character you’re referring to in Prince Caspian. Doesn’t a white Caspian save the day? Or a white King Peter?

  6. Slumbilical says:

    I only fux with Avatar inasmuch as I would smash the alien broad something so sinsurr.

    “She think she Bo Derrick, wear her hair in a twist…” (c) Camel

  7. BIGNAT says:

    “in the end, the movie presents a White Man romancing the exotic princess and proving himself superior to the best warrior in her tribe. If we are White Men, this makes us feel good about ourselves; and if we are not, we either put ourselves in his shoes, or are forced to cast ourselves as a romantic object or inferior competitor.”
    that is why i didn’t waste my time watching it it’s the kinda movie i can tell what is basically going happen from the trailer. not that i care about the white part of it just the main part of the story. like the same way i felt with ninja assassians but that i actually wanted to see that. my friend was talking about how good avatar was pssh that joitn gets the pass for me. he said shit is almost 3 hours long fuck that.

  8. 6 100 says:

    “I only fux with Avatar inasmuch as I would smash the alien broad something so sinsurr. ”

    Them aliens are 10ft tall I read somewhere.

    That’s a deep well to drink from

  9. 6 100 says:

    “Apparently the lack of a white savior (or the assistance thereof) has become the biggest critique by the international media and studio heads. I guess this also would hinder a Hannibal movie at any point as well… ”

    Hannibal might get a pass.
    1)His people were descended from Phoenicians who were a Semetic hapologropup subset related to the ‘Rabs and Jews. They might get Lenny Kravitz or Eli Roth to play him. I pray weekly that Vin Diesel does NOT get to play him

    2)Hannibal was bad ass. He conquered Italy. He fought on the front lines. He carried poisin in a ring so he would never get caught alive. He lost an eye. And still put fear in the Romans 100 years after he died.

    3)”300″ visuals are getting cheaper to make.

  10. Vee says:

    Great post!
    I heard about this Hollywood tendency from Paul Mooney when he did “Robert Townsend’s Partners in Crime” and his movie reviews on Dave Chapelle’s show. His assessments were hilarious but very poignant.

    Tom cruise was the Last Samurai.
    Brad Pitt . . . “The Mexican”
    He’s waiting for Hollywood to make a film title “The Last Real N*** Left in Harlem” starring Tom Hanks.

  11. Tony Grands says:

    Most good movies have a racial bias, always have been, always will. Hollywood is an amazing place, where one can wave the racism/racist flag, put a “positive” plot behind their intentions & make tons of money by providing loud ass bells & whistles to keep us entertained long enough to slam the subliminals into our psyche.

    But again, this is nothing new. Peep every animated Disney movie, the Hero, the Villian & the outcome.

  12. Tony Grands says:

    Ten foot tall, wide-nosed coloreds….all that movie missed was a basketball court.

  13. gstatty says:

    lol @ Vee Tom Hanks indeed. Great article thanks for posting it dp. There is a huge problem with the colonialist tendences of the whites. Propaganda was used in the film industry during Hitler’s reign as well, see Inglorious Basterds. I was totally thinking the last samurai when I was reading this drop. Another film I thought of was that Michelle Pfieffer flick Dangerous Minds, you know with the Coolio song. White girl really fixed them fuxed up children of color. The funny thing is a lot of the time caucasian people can’t see their own ignorance and color blind tendencies. Like they are somehow invisible and normal all at once. Sometimes they even think they should be applauded for not seeing color as an issue. Well it defintely is, my brown skin doesn’t change color and I always know I’m an outsider in this Country even though there are those that don’t want to acknowledge Race and somehow believe that doing so is forward-thinking, progressive and not racist. In actuality this scenario of white savior in a foreign land never ends up good in the ways that it is portrayed in film, especially for the colonized.

    When one of my white homies went with me to Jamaica and I took him to the ghetto, fool was straight scared out of his mind. I do live in state thats like 99 percent white. Another time I remember taking one of my other white homies to South Central LA to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw plaza, a very nice mall mind you. And dude was scurred that he was gonna get murked, robbed, shot and what have you. This ain’t boyz in the hood or juice, its a neighborhood like any other in the US. Each of these times, I was like, welcome to my daily existence in white-a-topia, I know I am a person of color at all times, now you know what its like to be a minority. Even if it was just for a short time and they were able to go back to the comfort of being part of the majority again, they were given a taste, and they definitely didn’t like it.

    Thanks again dp, I will be seeing this movie, but I will definitely have to put my critical thinking cap on while trying not to get a 3d headache.

  14. BIGNAT says:

    you killing me grands
    “Ten foot tall, wide-nosed coloreds….all that movie missed was a basketball court. ” LMAO

  15. Slumbilical says:

    Tony Grands Says:

    December 21st, 2009 at 1:43 pm
    Ten foot tall, wide-nosed coloreds….all that movie missed was a basketball court.

    ^

    tony grans is like the Asiatic cornell west

  16. Vee says:

    @Tony Grands for the grand slam . . . the basketball court tidbit is a truly a killer.

    BTW, I’m not going to see this film because
    (a) yeah, I already saw it – see any of the aforementioned movies mentioned, I’ll include Disney’s Atlantis

    (b) Special FX??? Come on . . . at this point, I really do not think any body is truly doing anything revolutionary in the FX field. After all, I did see Aliens, Jurassic Park, LOTR, Blade II, Disney’s Tarzan (which had killer CG shots), Pixar’s Monsters Inc., 300, the Transformers films and the Animatrix DVD.

    (c) More importantly, the trailer really did not do it for me.

    (d) I’m really enjoying the films coming out of Nollywood – those Nigerian movies. They’re different and kind of refreshing. Most of their production aesthetics are not great but . . . whatever. There’s an alternative to the regular Hollywood bullshit without suffering through art-house film that’s not good.

  17. Ceedat says:

    I knew I wasn’t tripping when I saw that movie all I could think of was this is some racist shit, they even had the top Na’Vi dude before the white guy showed up sounding like my Kenyan homie, it was excruciating

  18. Russ the Bus says:

    “Then name me a single film where the opposite happens, where a non-White character assimilates into a clearly White society and winds up in a position of power or leadership.”

    Men In Black.

  19. Damn Son says:

    wasnt that avatar shit used in ralp bakshi’s movie wizards?

  20. Tony Grands says:

    Slumbilical Says:December 21st, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    ^tony grans is like the Asiatic cornell west

    ^^Word. My grandpops was a Baptist minister, too!

  21. Slumbilical says:

    Russ the Bus Says:

    December 21st, 2009 at 4:20 pm
    “Then name me a single film where the opposite happens, where a non-White character assimilates into a clearly White society and winds up in a position of power or leadership.”

    Men In Black.

    ^

    oh shit…lurkers FTW.

    this has become a lively discussion – props to Tony “Cornel West-side” Grand and Dallas Pendergrass for getting it to pop off on this gloomy Monday

  22. douchebagsyndrome says:

    can we call this ignorant bullshit, come on douchebag you haven’t seen the film and are only going off film reviews. i’m gettin tired of this nonsense you know ignorant ass shit so i’ll keep it moving ya dig.

  23. Grand Master says:

    @dbagsyndrome

    you think what you do, and I’ll think what I do. I will probably peep the flick eventually and see what’s really good, but if it smells like shit, looks like shit, and talks like shit, I’m pra’li not gon put it in my mouth [||]. Smell me?

    @C Point

    The fly thing about Prince Caspian was that Caspian is actually an outsider… he is a “Telmarine” and so not a “Narnian” (in the movie, this translates to vaguely-Middle-Eastern looking casting vs. the very Anglo Narnian-humans), but at the same time, at the end of the book/flick, Aslan – God – puts Caspian at the helm of the country. For the fairly anglocentric Lewis to do this is pretty significant, imo.

  24. Grand Master says:

    @ Russ the Bus

    word, Men in Black is not bad with respect to this. In fact, when I posted this joint to my own blog, my homey called it out… but also made this point:

    “um, maybe Men-In-Black?
    … come to think of it the only non-white person in the organization was will smith, and he was always under the watchful eye of his white mentor…”

  25. Polotron says:

    I think I’ve put my finger on the reason I’ve always felt comfy rooting for the Movie/TV bad guy (provided they didn’t make them complete idiots).

  26. Grand Master says:

    @polotron.

    Yeah, that’s real talk. I watched this documentary called The Slanted Screen: Asian Men in Film and Television, and actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa made the point that he was consistently given choices to take two kinds of roles in his career… either asexual, wimpy, comedic relief (fiddddddduck a 16 Candles btw); or evil, calculating, villain mastermind (word to MF DOOM). In his eyes, the more empowering roles were the latter: he says something along the lines of “if an Asian kid watched my film, at least he would see an Asian man in a powerful role”.

    But the problem is still… a powerful role, but still the villain. What does this do to minority X’s process of self-defining identity, if all the powerful members of X that are depicted in media are the bad guys?

    Shit, just look at The Wire… the Barksdale/Stanfield organizations are pretty clearly depicted as bad dudes (multi-dimensional, well-crafted, sympathetic bad dudes… but bad dudes nonetheless), but yet so much of the ‘hood (or the nah right comments section… same ish… ha.) valorizes snoop, chris, etc. And let’s not even get into Scarface fetishizing.

    I think curtis said it well: “I watch gangster flicks, root for the bad guy / turn it off before the end, cuz the bad guy die”

  27. Russ the Bus says:

    come to think of it will smith regularly “assimilates into a clearly White society and winds up in a position of power or leadership.”
    independence day, wild wild west, bad boys, irobot, i am legend, legend of bagger vance, hitch
    he’s always the only black (except bad boys of course) and he always is the savior of the ancillary white characters.

    according to imdb he’s got 24 projects in production. this racism in hollywood is about to be over.

  28. Grand Master says:

    Yea, I Am Legend was ill. A Black man is the last man standing? chyea!

    Legend of Bagger Vance is a little troublesome, as he’s somewhat of a “Magic N-word” in that movie.

    Still your point is well taken. Will Smith gets the thumbs up. Now let’s see more.

  29. Tony Grands says:

    ^^Legend of Bagger Vance is a little troublesome, as he’s somewhat of a “Magic N-word” in that movie”

    Agreed. Somehow, he still wound up as the fairy godfather, the uncelebrated hero still relegated to the shadows while the glorious (White) protagonist gets the reward.

    Let’s not forget ‘The Pursuit of Happyness & ‘9 lbs’, where he didn’t assimilate, according to color. Although, those movies were more based on internalized struggle, so, yeah…

  30. I took a course in college called “African Americans in Film” and I haven’t been able to watch movies the same way since. This drop sums up a lot of the ideas that found their way into my head that semester.

    I wasn’t planning on seeing this anyway so I’m just going to continue with that plan.

  31. FrankTruth says:

    Saw it last night and wanted to like this shit for graphics, special fx, rae rae… but eventually that bullshit wears thinner than the damn judeo-christian white boy saviour plot-line it tried to obfuscate–complete with magical negresses.

    From heretofore we shall all tell an ofay they speak so well everyday and cast them as magical whitey.

    Dope to see Bro. Ernie stopping thru to comment. I wanna peep that guest drop D, might have to take a detour to fit some of this shit into my lesson plans after the break.

  32. Dart_Adams says:

    Interesting. I definitely need to see this shit for myself then. Good lookin’ out to GrandMaster, Dallas Penn & Combat Jack.

    One.

  33. When I first saw the trailers for this movie I thought how awesome would it be…but then as months have gone by and I’d see the trailer again and again…I saw the underlying racism. Maybe because Of my dual heritage [mother, native american & father, black] that I see things from a different vantage point. When stories have been passed down from generation to generation, recited from childhood and memorized in pride…you notice the pattern in a lot of things in life… Does that make me ultra sensitive? No, just aware.
    Good post J.

    “…name me a single film where the opposite happens, where a non-White character assimilates into a clearly White society and winds up in a position of power or leadership. I can’t think of a single one.
    B.H. Obama…oh wait, that’s not a movie…
    Well…year one…let’s hope it doesn’t turn into a bad B movie by year 4.

    *sneaking back over to the mundane ramblings of my blog*

  34. Grand Master says:

    Word. I feel for my Native brothers & sisters, of all people in this country your stories are not respected. “Manifest destiny” … gtfoh.

    Obama’s rise to leadership almost makes the media’s bias more annoying… in real life, people of color do succeed and overcome the barriers, all the time. But the number of stories being told about that success is incredibly disproportionate to the actual success.

  35. Mark Dub says:

    Y’all were thinking, ‘Men In Black’; I was thinking Wild Wild West. And yeah…thumbs up for Will, but from what I understand, he and Jada are knee-deep in the Scientology cult, so is he really winning?

  36. 6 100 says:

    I dont really watch commercials, previews, etc., but I saw the Avatar commercial yesterday.

    I’d like to point out 1 crazy thing.

    The white dude is a cripple. And this handicapped man can do things that the best Na’vi(psudo-homonym for naïve?) can’t do. GTFOH. . .

  37. FrankTruth says:

    @Tony Grand

    I seemed to have forgotten but there IS a basketball court!

  38. Slumbilical says:

    fuck avatar but this red Fludy watch i got from the homie DP is shinin like the sun right now — brilliant ballin — DP is that dude. recognize, bitches.

  39. Tony Grands says:

    @Mark

    From what I read, they are still “Christians” (whatever that means these days), but have a vested interest in Scientology because Will & Tom Cruise are good friends. But so far, he’s yet to publicly announce it.

    I did a performance @ one of their churchess back in like 99 or something. Just like any old church, except they made me & my buddy (& our crew) watch a dvd explaining their premise before we performed. I thought that was odd. I grew up baptist & was never subjected to a propaganda film, although that may or may not be worse than 300lbs old woman bouncing through the aisles backflipping over pews & shit. Plus, they didn’t give out fans with mortuary advertisements.

  40. Angela says:

    I saw Avatar on Friday in IMAX 3D with my pops. He loved it. Me, not so much. The graphics were amazing, but the storyline is even more problematic than you mention, GM.

    (I’m spoiling)…

    Basically the white dude CAUSES all the problems by informing on the blue ppl to this crazy, war-mongering army guy. Then the white dude has sex with the native woman and finally decides to fix all the problems he directly caused.

    The movie isn’t even truly about white guilt because it makes distinctions between “good white people” and the “bad” ones right out the gate. The good whites are the scientists who claim to only want to study the Na’Vi and “learn” from them. The bad whites just want the planet’s resources. The movie never takes the scientists to task for forcing the natives to learn english and basically infanilizing/de-humanizing them in every scene. If you are a white person who recycles, loves science and respects spirituality, then you won’t even experience a moment of guilt for the way the “other whites” treat the natives. You are given a moral high ground that doesn’t even require a white “savior.”

    Basically, I was most upset by the fact that whites were permitted so many angles through which to view this film while minorities had no choice but to identify with the disenfranchised.

    But another film that depends on a non-white savior to save a non-white community is Precious. The film and book are rife with problematic images, but at least no “Nice White Lady” appears to save the day. (Paula Patton has taken flack for being too light to play Ms. Rain, but dammit she’s still black, and she did a good job.)

  41. Incilin says:

    Great read. I saw Avatar and despite the racial notions I also noticed while watching the film, I did enjoy it as a film. I see the relevance in everything in this article but I would at least give Cameron the benefit of the doubt say that the racist undertones of his film were unintentional. (Sidebar: One of the few Western films that cast women in an ass-kicking role that 3rd wave feminists can sometimes show love to is Aliens, which is of course also directed by Cameron).

    Also, obviously there are a lot of films that seem to fall into this storyline (Plenty mentioned here, and plenty I’m sure we’re forgetting or haven’t seen) but that only plays further into the notion of this being an archetype of Western media, making white guilt seem more embedded into the minds of white filmmakers and storytellers everywhere. That’s not an excuse, just an observation.

  42. VEe! says:

    incilin, . . . intentional?

    Quote, “And, you know what, it’s almost worse if this narrative has come about unintentionally. If Cameron set out to simply make the freshest, most interesting, most entertaining work that he could, and the themes of White Guilt just happened to manifest themselves in that work, this is immense justification for the post-colonialist critic. Such a scenario signals that the co-opting of other cultures has gone so far that it has ingrained itself into the grand narrative of Western culture, deeply enough that even the production of a new mythos (and there is reason to believe that Cameron hopes for an extended universe) has the fingerprints of eurocentrism and White Guilt all over it.” – GrandMaster (jason)

    And just for good measure, check out io9.com’s article, When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like ‘Avatar’

  43. Polotron says:

    @ Grand Master

    “What does this do to minority X’s process of self-defining identity, if all the powerful members of X that are depicted in media are the bad guys?”

    Exactly. I shudder to think what “programming” I (and others) absorbed. I know this: if there was a choice between being righteous and powerless or dead wrong with a say, I was turning their cheeks FOR them.

    Many other things come into play…but at this stage, I realize that’s sad.

  44. Mark Dub says:

    @ T. Grands

    I’ve heard the same; they are still Christians, but I’ve also read that they began a school based on the same philosophies that Scientology embody. I’ve never been to the church, but have read several WILD stories by folks who are former members. Now, granted, those folks may have an axe or two to grind, but a lot of their stories are BANANAS, and I’m not talking about the bananas that go well with your milk and Cheerios. The “church”, allegedly, is REALLY serious about those who speak out publically against them, almost on some maffia type shit.

  45. Incilin says:

    @ VEe! Maybe I should have made this clear (My bad). What you quoted is the one part of the article I disagreed with. For me, it’s a lot worse to be intentionally racist than to be unintentionally racist. I give him the benefit of the doubt because hey, at least he’s trying to play fair which in reality is all we can hope for. I mean, he can’t help it that he’s white. In the end, he can only see the world through his own eyes even if he’s trying to put himself into someone else’s shoes. Again, not an excuse. And like I said, and the article also suggested, maybe these things are embedded into white people’s minds at this point.

  46. Slumbilical says:

    Basically the white dude CAUSES all the problems by informing on the blue ppl

    ^

    YTs stay snitchin’…even in Hollyhood.

  47. Tony Grands says:

    @Mark

    Yeah, they were hosting some talent show, & all the acts had to go into a small theater & watch the movie before we did anything else. I was sooo loaded I didn’t care, but in hindsight, that could’ve been severe brainwash attempts. But alcohol disinfects, so, yeah. I did some research, & no offense to anyone, but their notions about aliens & such is quite far fetched. L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer previous to starting his “religion”. That alone is somewhat of a red flag to me.

  48. Martin Lawrence says:

    AYO! I was in Bad Boys too! AND BLACK KNIGHT! I STAY risin to positions of power in white societies!

  49. Slumbilical says:

    Martin Lawrence Says:

    December 22nd, 2009 at 6:21 pm
    AYO! I was in Bad Boys too! AND BLACK KNIGHT! I STAY risin to positions of power in white societies!

    ^

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  50. Slumbilical says:

    lupe should have ripped the wacka flocka “LEH DUAYYYYYYYYY” beat on enemy of the state

  51. $ykotic/Don McCaine says:

    First of all, those people are blue. What other ingenious way could you show “colored” people?

    Fox has invested 500 mil into mentally conditioning the blind. My chips will NOT be added into that equation.

    I’m surprised cats didn’t catch on when “District 9” dropped. Like the Prawns weren’t the people in the hood.

    Symbolism is that sh*t when it comes to Hollywood.

  52. leisureg says:

    My advice before writing a diatribe such as this….go see the movie first. The main character’s white body died in the end and then was permanently transferred into a “blue face”. Tell me what that is supposed to mean?
    I think anybody could find racial undertones in anything so my advice for people is to concentrate on the positive and not so much on the negative.

    By the way, I would consider Spike Lee, one of my favorites, an auteur. So what is wrong with James Cameron wanting to be one, or any other filmmaker at that? I don’t understand that point other than maybe James’ desperation of wanting to make a political statement parallels your own desperation on trying to make a racist connection that isn’t there.

    And to cite the website Something Awful on such a topic as this is quite absurd.

  53. the_dallas says:

    “I think anybody could find racial undertones in anything so my advice for people is to concentrate on the positive and not so much on the negative.”

    Fux Yo’ Advice!

    For the amount of money that I spend entertaining myself I will call bullshit on anything that I want. If YOU decide to still fux with it then that is your choice, but I should NEVER look away. That is how supremacism has thrived.

    People were too greedy or cowardly to go head up with supremacy from the gate and then when some people started to get tired of the burden of maintaining the inequity those people were shocked back into place with the murders of the Kennedys and King and X.

    Supremacy stays in place because of cowards and those who realize that they don’t want to the system undermined before their children can benefit. Don’t worry be happy is for cowards. I stays woke and I consider my consciousness to be something positive and proactive.

  54. $ykotic/Don McCaine says:

    I needed to duplicate this thought here.

    Let’s keep it factual. Sully(means to make soiled or tarnished(THE BLOODLINE)) came in the form as a Navi(NAtive VIctim), the ol’ WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING/undercover tactic. For those who haven’t seen it he didn’t do all of this winning in “white-face”. He came to the door as the DECEIVER, IN COSTUME, and changed his tune because of the INFATUATION of living a better way of life.

    Y’all acting like that jungle scene didn’t remind you of the “Roots” round them up scene. Then again most dudes haven’t seen “Roots”.

    Because some pawns in the game all of a sudden gained a conscience don’t impress me. Because “company” still destroyed the land, just like Iraq, Africa, Mexico, AMERICA. And we all should know the process of photosynthesis doesn’t happen overnight.

    And besides why do the movie in 3D? To stray your mind away from the message with awesome special effects? Tell me y’all ain’t the same cats who didn’t see Jesus in the form of Neo because of the new effects.

    No shots but do due diligence. I hear Arabic in the movie, do you?

    If Cameron really wanted to get a point across, Soil stain & his “new people” should have won. Everything. Ships and all word to homie above who stated Spike Lee. 40 acres and a mule.

    AND I’MA KEEP IT REAL.

    Not some “OK you’re a n*gga lover, look and be a n*gga with them”…

    And still, how many Black people are in the film PERIOD? Don’t they have laws against that? I know commercials do…and don’t fret, even my homies said the movie screams of “racial undertones”…

  55. Tony Grands says:

    “Tell me y’all ain’t the same cats who didn’t see Jesus in the form of Neo because of the new effects”

    ^^I recently made my wife watch all 3 over again, because we had that convo one day after Bible study. Afterwards, she was like, “oh shit…”

  56. Grand Master says:

    @Tony Grands

    Ahhh you a churchgoing man? Word.

    @$ykotic

    actually i liked district 9… felt it was a little different… in that film, white becomes colored (the prawns were NOT at all subtle… the director knew exactly what statement he was making, and did so openly) and what happens?

    he is left to fend for himself in a pile of shit.

    Welcome to the real minority experience, nah right? I don’t take objection to people who want to understand the minority experience; I object to people who exploit the minority experience, but still end up with their nice, comforting, emotionally cathartic resolution. It is a privileged point of view that gets to pretend the story has (at least, at the moment) a happy ending.

    @leisureg

    “what is wrong with James Cameron wanting to be [an auteur?]”
    -What is wrong, is that people will play the “this is just a fun sci-fi film, you’re reading too much into its politics/theology/philosophy” (as you did), whereas Cameron very obviously and explicitly wants to make this film a political/theological/philosophical statement.

  57. $ykotic/Don McCaine says:

    @ Grand Master

    “I don’t take objection to people who want to understand the minority experience; I object to people who exploit the minority experience, but still end up with their nice, comforting, emotionally cathartic resolution.”

    ^ This. Is when I do not understand how and why Tyler Perry gets a pass.

    @ Grands

    Word is bond. When I was at the slopes last week we had this Hollywood convo. About how The Governator always premiered a new Blackwater(Xe) gun in every action movie. Or how Will Smith introduced to us the Patriot Act(Enemy Of The State-1998). They showed us all of the tracking technology. And how the government uses Hollywood during war times to spread it’s agenda(It is war time now isn’t it?). You can notice that jewel in “Inglorious Bastards”. And how “The Siege”(originally “Martial Law”, filmed by the old bank by the Williamsburg Bridge, the bus scene, and by the Myrtle Ave J train stop, same spot as “Ghost”, “Strapped”, “King Of New York” and “Fresh”, for all of my NY’ers) with Denzel shows us Guantanamo Bay early, it was also released in 1998.

    Hollywood is arrogant. Makes you wonder why Johnny Depp lives in France.

  58. my2cents says:

    First time posting a comment here but had to do.

    Seen the movie and have to give you my 2 cents (sorry ’bout that).

    criticism first:

    – the dude writing (is that you GrandMaster?) has not seen the movie. Let’s be honest here can you really write a piece on a movie you haven’t seen?
    – As a “colored” (this expression should be put down to rest) guy coming from a country that has been colonised, I instist on the necessary distinction between racism, eurocentrism, colonialism and paternalism. Those are not interchangeable notions.

    On the movie:
    – It was not that bad per se but certainly not exceptional or even good (as some might say).
    – To me there is no racism but typical slimy white guilt. Cameron is eurocentrist all right: his hero is a (too) well meaning white caucasian (him maybe? I smell a mary sue here).
    But notice that the hero is not teaching anything to the natives, (I agree with the analysis of the name here), does not bring cool tech to them, do not try to change their beliefs, etc… To make my point clear compare this to the behaviour of missionnaries in the thirld world (paternalist when not downright racist but not colonialist) or of proper imperialist states: UK, France, US, etc.. (racist and colonialist and if you are lucky paternalists).
    – the guy literrally undergo a race change (!) in the movie (just as in District 9 GrandMaster).

    I am more bugged by the underlying rousseauism here: savage good, sky people bad.

    Hollywood curse 101: this film is simplistic to the extreme and I am not a idiot. That is why I feel like hitting Cameron on the head for. No nuance at all. But I actually find movies like American History X WAYYYYY more racially misguided than that 500-mil-special-effect-ridden nonsense. and I completely agree with Ernest J. Paniccioli with regards to Stargate which was racist and colonialist (the scene where that dude offers a chocolate bar to the native… priceless).

    PS: sorry to bring that up but, guys, seriously, calling the Na’Vi a minority? When the movie takes place on their homeworld? It says more about your own … sensibilities and the society you live in the about the “message” this “auteur” is supposed to convey (which has nothing to do with the minority experience)…

    PSbis: Grand Master, If you bring up the Magic Negro, realise that the Sully character in avatar can be qualified as the Magic Cracker.

  59. the_dallas says:

    my2cents,
    Thanks for your invaluable 2 cents.

    Just for further reference… ‘Cracker’ isn’t really a suitable term for a white since there were plenty of Black ‘crackers’. The cracker is the motherfucker holding the whip and entrusted to exert control over others. There were many a colonised people who couldn’t wait to hold the whip handle as opposed to getting their hands on the whip.

    But again, thank you for allowing your comments cherry to be spread open on this thread.

  60. Grand Master says:

    Yea, 2cents, you obviously know your shit (-bis, rousseau? do i smell higher edumacation? ha) so i am not gonna step to you in any way. good call on having to separate “racism, eurocentrism, colonialism and paternalism” – i painted in some pretty broad strokes [||] in this one just for the sake of brevity (didnt want to be clocking in at 2000+ words). but the rabbit hole definitely goes as deep and as far as you are willing to follow it… what you find isn’t always bad news, either. but it’s not always what one might expect.

    glad that you commented. this is some good dialogue here. whatever the film was meant to do or touch on, at least we’re thinking on some real things here.

  61. Grand Master says:

    and your Hollywood Curse 101 reminded me of why Crash was such a problem of a movie for me… some things bout it were fairly interesting, but in the end simplistic feel-good portrayals carried thru at the end of the day.

    what do you think about something like The Wire, then, where there is less resolution and more of a verisimilitude?

  62. Tony Grands says:

    @GM

    “Church-going”, not so much, but trying to find my way back to God, indeed. But, we won’t get all into that here, lol. Race is enough heat for one kitchen.

    @$yk

    Since I was a kid, I’ve noticed the parellels between Hollywouldn’t & Government & Technology. Shit’s intense, if you let it be. Even down to insignificant things, such as the computers in ‘Minority Report’, which, are becoming more common place today. Or the extremely desensitized “reality” show on ‘The Running Man’, which paved the way for an entire genre of home entertainment, no matter what the moral cost to the consumer or participant. Even the show ’24’, that not only gave civilians “insight” as to the behind the scenes activity of radical Muslim factions (with a theatrical twist of course), but also forsaw a Black president & what global turbulence he’d have to mediate.

    I know those things are just drops in a bucket, but ripples can become tidal waves with enough force. Sidenote: ‘The Book of Eli’ is dropping next month.

  63. Tony Grands says:

    Also, shout out to DP & GM on this thread. A proverbial think tank, this is (word to Yoda).

  64. the_dallas says:

    Grand$,
    I’m gonna have to push the issue of finding God here on this page if I think it will help someone in their path. You shouldn’t be afraid of that discussion.

    GrandMaster,
    I never went thru the entire ‘The Wire’ series because the shit that I saw I fux’n h8’d. I also h8’d the idea that people believed it was real. Shit in the street was WAY more depraved than ‘The Wire’ depicted it. There were NO heroes. Just bad guys and badder guys.

  65. my2cents says:

    @The_Dallas

    Nuances, nuances. Did not know about the “Cracker” term for not being a native anglophone. Thanks for the info.

    @Grand Master

    I understand you on the brievety thing. By the way, I might not totally share your opinion on the movie but to be honest I appreciate your essay, it is way more intelligent than any of the dumb praises that are to be read around the web. And we all can safely conclude that those Hollywood filmmakers are getting more and more intellectually lazy (a dance with the wolves quasi-remake? in 2009? silly story then, silly story now. Great cinematography in both cases though).

    Have to go back to work now. Shouldn’t you guys be in bed at 4.50? 🙂

  66. my2cents says:

    @the_Dallas

    same for me about Crash. Don’t know the Wire (yet).

  67. $ykotic/Don McCaine says:

    “Shouldn’t you guys be in bed at 4.50?”

    Pacific time FTW.

    Besides a brother is smoking watching “Enemy” again. Is it sheer coincidence that the crooked National Security dude’s birthday was 9/11/40? Coming from a 1998 movie about terrorism? I kid you not.

    PEACE

  68. CL says:

    remember the titans, the great debaters, dragon: the bruce lee story?

  69. Tony Grands says:

    My bad DP…

    I been DP.com fam long enough to know how it works. & in that case then yeah, I been on a spiritual mission for awhile, which may or may not take me to churches, where false idols are worshipped & praised to fill the void of truth. It’s easy to be mislead if you stare @ stained glass windows & oil paintings long enough.

  70. the_dallas says:

    Respect Grand$, respect

  71. EloheemStar says:

    Wow…. I just stopped by for a Combat Jack Avatar review. What a thread. I identified the not so subliminal repetitive Hollywood undertones but at the same time I enjoyed the movie. The 3-D CGI is in fact ground breaking. Decent Sci-fi movies are scarce and since the people I identify myself with are still ill equipped to create, cast, direct, produce, support and control the movie industry in any significant way I took the good with the bad. You want to evaluate a movie that’s harmful forget Avatar. The Princess and the frog are geared towards our young and impressionable children who cannot separate what is entertainment from what is BS.

  72. 40 says:

    SOMEONE IN HOLLYWOOD READ THIS BLOG DROP…

    All will be corrected in “Karate Kid 2010” where Wil Smith’s kid saves the Chinese from themselves.

  73. Tony Grands says:

    @40

    I saw the extended preview last night, & as an olde(er) dude grew up with the original, I can say I’m not disappointed so far.

    I’m really waiting on ‘The Book of Eli’ though.

  74. leisureg says:

    @Dallas

    My point is not to get on some Bobby McFerrin bullshit. It’s about creating balance between being vigilant compared to just straight being paranoid that everything is against you. Which leads me back to saying anybody can interpret anything they want. And the more knowledgeable you are, the more convincing you can make it.

    As well written as this piece is, I personally think it’s a stretch after viewing the movie just once (noticed I said I saw the movie which to me is imperative to persuade me with such an argument).

    With that said I think the most wonderful thing from this is that by reading through everybody thoughts and views. I’m now well armed to view this movie again and try to make these connections. And thank you all for that.

  75. eddie says:

    Just a comment on District 9: some commentors seem to be critical of the fact that the prawns were so obviously racial analogues. It was my impression that was the point. The writer (a white south african) knew exactly what he was doing there, he was trying to make a point about race relations and how people treat each other.

  76. getthesenets says:

    just finished seeing the flick

    courtesy of 21st century lootin lenny

    is it me…or is this just an updated version of sam houston story…

    or for the cats who slept through history class in high school when the topic got to texas………….the story sounds and looks like namor..the submariner……

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