Natives criticize Avatar (again) for metaphors and inaccuracies


The release of “Avatar: The Way of Water” has put the series’ creators under hot water once again, with Indigenous people criticizing what they call the film’s fascination with colonialism and its racist portrayal of Indigenous people and their culture.

when the original Avatar came out in 2009, where powerful 3D effects and stunning sci-fi action visuals propelled it to become the highest-grossing movie of all time. After 13 years and an estimated $250 million budget, die-hard fans had high expectations for director James Cameron’s second installment, which debuted this Friday.

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But indigenous critics say the problematic pitfalls of the first “Avatar” movie have resurfaced in the sequel, namely in its portrayal of the Na’vi, the film’s alien species drawn from several indigenous tribes around the world. The peripheral Na’vi clan that is central to the second film has been heavily influenced by the Maori, the Polynesian people indigenous to New Zealand.

Cheney Poole, 27, of Christchurch, New Zealand — known as Otautahi, Aotearoa, in Maori — describes the film’s depiction as “just another example of the same overtly romanticized, unmistakable colonialism.”

“It romanticizes the idea of ​​what not only Māori but many Aboriginal cultures around the world are going through, and almost minimizes the suffering,” said Paul.

Cameron, who could not be reached for comment, in 2012 called Avatar a “sci-fi retelling of the history of North and South America in the early colonial period.” He said recently An interview with Unilad stated that he was listening to marginalized groups and sought improvements for the second film.

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“People who have historically been victimized are always right. It’s not up to me, speaking in terms of white privilege, if you will, to tell them they’re wrong,” Cameron said.

The plot of the first film, in which a strange white humanoid Jake Sully infiltrates the Na’vi to save them from a corporation trying to exploit ecological resources from their land of Pandora, worried indigenous groups. Cameron told Unilad that he thinks the new film was able to “avoid” the idea of ​​a white savior.

Lailatul Fitriyah, who is looking for decolonization as a An assistant professor at Claremont Theological Seminary said she has no interest in seeing an Avatar sequel, having recently seen the first film for the first time. Fitria said she was dismayed that Jake became a Neph in this film, playing into what she described as a colonial trope that an alien could easily “become native” by looking the part and learning what it meant to be a primitive culture.

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The second movie wasn’t much better, thought Mana Tyne, a 19-year-old from Queensland, Australia, who is Maori. In it, Jake is now the leader of the Na’vi clan, Tain was offended by the way the film reduces tain, a type of tattoo that is culturally significant and readable by Māori, to “abstract, meaningless” shapes which “serve more as an aesthetic appearance” on the faces and bodies of the characters in the film.

“I would like to see more of the Māori people and culture represented on screen in cinema, but I want to see Māori people played by themselves,” said Taine. “I don’t want to have to sacrifice the importance of our practices, which have already lost so much through colonialism.”

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Film critics gave “Avatar: The Way of Water” mixed to positive reviews, and audiences showed up, albeit in smaller numbers than expected. The film grossed $134 million in North America over the weekend, tying it with “Batman” for the fifth-highest domestic debut of the year, and grossed an additional $300 million overseas.

Paul said that simply seeing Aboriginal characters, particularly when phrasing them using metaphors, does not help address the trauma faced by real Aboriginal people in the same way that an authentic portrayal of Aboriginal people might.

“We still have elders in our community who have the scars of being beaten at school for speaking their mother tongueAnd thePaul said.

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Autumn Asher Blackder, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver, said the “Avatar” films also add to the monolithic portrayal of Indigenous people commonly used in media. The Na’vi are mystical and majestic savages, she said, With stereotypical angular cheekbones and long hair in braids. They also have a distinctive physical feature of the BlackDeer tribe, the Southern Cheyenne, that they are known for – pronounced noses.

She said that because the films are from multiple Aboriginal tribes, it could mean that all Aboriginal people are the same. It’s a harmful stereotype reinforced by “protesters,” Blackder said, non-indigenous people who may use generic Native clothing or accessories to appear Aboriginal.

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“I’m tired of hearing Aboriginal stories from a white perspective,” she said. “We don’t need big-budget Hollywood movies. We can tell our own stories.”

Johnny Jay, who is part of the Otto, Missouria and Choctaw tribes, called it racist and harmful to the “Avatar” filmmakers for glorifying colonialism and promoting local tropes of entertainment when Indigenous peoples around the world protected land, water and biodiversity before joining their white counterparts in the fight for climate justice.

But Gaye, 42, also noted that given the diversity of Indigenous peoples and viewpoints, not everyone will share her dislike of the films, which have somewhat heightened the visibility of Indigenous peoples and their issues.

“It’s kind of hard to acknowledge all these different nuances without denigrating each other or making it up or playing against each other,” Jay said. We have to acknowledge the problematic representation. But by the same token, we can acknowledge what was done right, because that’s how we make progress in improving the media.”

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