More than a decade after the sci-fi blockbuster hit “Avatar,” James Cameron is back with a sequel that transports audiences back to the lush world of Pandora. But some indigenous viewers aren’t particularly interested in returning to it.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” and its director are facing fresh scrutiny from Indigenous audiences, some of whom have criticized the franchise for its “white savior” narrative, use of stereotypes and inappropriate representation of Indigenous people.
Yoi Bejay, a Navajo artist and activist, called on A.J boycott of the film in a tweet that has since garnered more than 47,000 likes, while Autumn Asher Blackdeer, a researcher from the Southern Cheyenne Nation, tweeted: compilation and production A widely shared list of Aboriginal-led sci-fi films for viewers to watch instead. Countless others have also weighed in on their grievances, with some — including Begay — calling out remarks Cameron made in previous interviews.
The Avatar franchise isn’t subtle in its anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and environmental themes — and Cameron has said the same, previously referring to the first film as “a science fiction retelling of the history of North and South America in the early colonial period.”
But despite the director’s intentions, critics of “Avatar” feel the films fall short in their execution.
The original 2009 film follows protagonist Jake Sully as he is sent to the moon Pandora as part of an imperial mission. There, he inhabits a new body that mimics the appearance of the Na’vi, the blue humanoid species native to this new environment. As Sully bonds with the Na’vi and falls in love with Princess Neytiri, he is forced to choose between the two worlds. In the sequel, Sully is now the chief of the Omatekaya clan as he and his family once again confront the colonial ambitions of the humans.
said Crystal Echo-Hawk, President and CEO of IllumiNative.
“He (Cameron) may be telling the story of colonialism, but he’s telling it through the lens of a white man,” she told CNN.
By including more natives throughout the production, Echo-Hawk said Cameron might have been able to tell a more realistic story that could have resonated with audiences better.
She added, “It’s a level of arrogance again that a white filmmaker can somehow tell a story based on Indigenous peoples better than any Indigenous people can ever do.”
She said her organization IllumiNative, which aims to improve media portrayals of Indigenous people, is in talks with Disney about how the “Avatar” franchise can avoid similar pitfalls in the sequel, due for a 2024 release.
“Water Road” is a little deeper than its predecessor. It presents the Myetkaina people on the reef in a nod to the Māori, in an attempt to highlight the diversity of indigenous peoples around the world. Cliff Curtis, who is of Maori descent, is also cast as the chief of the Metkayina Tonowari. But many other characters are still voiced by white actors.
Adam Perone, film director and director of the Indigenous Program at the Sundance Institute, said he has yet to see the latest installment in the “Avatar” film series, though he plans to. But he sees Cameron’s sci-fi epic as part of a long history of white filmmakers bringing their own ideas of Indigenousness to the screen, rather than involving Indigenous people themselves.
He added, “All that remains with these films is the desire of non-Aboriginal people to be Aboriginal or to have some kind of connection to Aboriginal people.”
The films have also been accused of cultural appropriation for the way they combine disparate elements of indigenous cultures in their depictions of the fictional Na’vi. While “The Way of Water” draws inspiration from Māori, Echo-Hawk said the film could have benefited from a deeper partnership.
“It’s based on James Cameron’s concept of what he thinks is Aboriginal history, and what he thinks is Aboriginal culture,” she said. “Everyone thinks we are a monolith. What it does is define who the indigenous peoples are, what the indigenous cultures, languages and practices are.”
Part of the anger around the sequel also stemmed from recently resurfaced comments Cameron made in 2010 to The Guardian where he joined the Xingu people of the Amazon in their fight against a dam project. Cameron said that witnessing indigenous ceremonies in the Amazon region led him to think about the plight of the indigenous peoples of North America.
“I felt like I was 130 years in the past watching what the Lakota Sioux would have said at a time when they were pushed and killed and asked for displacement and were receiving some form of compensation,” he said at the time. Except to think that if the Lakota Sioux had a window in time and they could have seen the future…and they could have seen their children commit suicide at the highest suicide rate in the country…because they were hopeless and it was a dead-end society – which is what is happening now – they would have fought even more. much.”
Cameron hit back at criticism of “Avatar” earlier this month, telling UK media website Unilad that “the important thing is to listen and be sensitive to the issues that people face.”
He said of his critics: “It is not up to me, when speaking in terms of white privilege, if you will, to tell them they are wrong.” “It has validity. It’s pointless for me to say, ‘Well, that was never my intention.'”
Rhonda Lucey, founder of the Toronto Indigenous Filmmakers Collective and media production company Sun Raven Arts, said she has no plans to see The Way of Water.
“I live this reality. My community lives this reality,” Lucy said. “Why would I want to pay a small amount of the money I make to hand over to a huge money-making machine to pay them to show the heartache and pain that just ended?”
But while she understands and shares the criticism, she hopes indigenous creators will take this as a cue to develop their own ambitious projects.
“We have a whole bunch of nerds in our community who love writing, creative writing, and doing a lot of science fiction,” she said. “I want to see our people leave all this stuff in the dust, and say, ‘We made our own. ”
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