Monday, December 28, 2009
Avatar: Racist or A Just Hollywood Story of Race?
And now that I've seen it, I DO NOT believe the film is racist as how we typically define it--"typically" meaning those in the minority are portrayed as inferior, ignorant, inept, and as minstrels while those in power, not always the majority, are the intellectuals, the inventors, the elite, the best. Those are blatant signs. Subtle racism is a little harder to define.
Yes, there are UNDENIABLE similarities between Africans, African-Americans, Native Americans, or tribal, aboriginal people in general and "Avatar's" humanoid Na'vi--a.k.a "native" people of Pandora. And yes, the actions of the pure humans, mostly white, mirror the European rape and colonialism of Africa, and the Native American "Trail of Tears." No coincidence there! This film is meant to open a "Pandora's Box" on issues of race and environmental abuse.
That said, "Avatar" is a super visual retelling of similar historical occurrences with a sci-fi twist and a general Hollywood approach, just like this summer's racially themed "District 9". It's them versus us, and "us" depends on which side of the bulldozer you're on. But one of "them" will either betray us or help us, or in this case, both for a greater cause.
And technically, I don't believe Cameron is trying to guilt white viewers into feeling or doing anything as some commenters have said. "Avatar" isn't a propagandist film it's a sci-fi movie. That's it! Trust black people or Native Americans, especially, are not going to think any worse of white people after seeing the film than they did before seeing it. Blue people on the other hand may be mad as hell!
So does "Avatar" really paint all whites in a bad light? No, but according to some white bloggers, yes! However, as with most Hollywood flicks with a "Tarzan" slant, the white guy seemingly saves the day and truly becomes "down with the people". Shouldn't that make white people feel better? No! Then welcome! For a mere three hours you felt a pinch of how people of color feel for a lifetime when we see ourselves portrayed stereotypically and incorrectly.
However, in "Avatar", in my opinion the REAL hero of the day is a blue woman, portrayed by black actress Zoe Saldana. That said, what irks me about "Avatar" and films like it is that Hollywood always finds a way to hide black actors behind mainstream characters. This is especially true in animated films such as "Lion King", "Madagascar", and even in "Transformers". Really, if the studio promoted the REAL faces and names of Zoe Saldana, Laz Alonzo, and C.C. Pounder as the leads on the "Avatar" poster how many whites would have rushed out to see this movie? And honestly, how many black people? Exactly!
And considering the money this film has already made, you think either of these black actors can now demand a few more millions, if that, per pic, or get a little on the back end? Truth is Sam Worthington (Jack Sully) may not get it either, but his chances are a lot greater. Consequently, will the black actors get the press coverage they deserve or will the cameras always turn to Worthington, the Justin Timberlake of this movie? Yeah, I went there! If the correlation fits, blog it!
Every press outlet knows what Worthington looks like. His natural face is on the posters, billboards, and what not! That's Zoe Saldana's "masked" face you see above in this post. And sadly, having done years of red carpet coverage and press junkets, most white photographers and reporters for Getty, Wire Image, E! and the like won't know who Saldana, Alonzo, or Pounder are unless you tell them. That doesn't make them racist, just too busy to give a damn. But, it's also a reflection of society at large. Truly, that's no diss to the actors, just a truism in the Hollywood. "We Wear The Mask", for real in this entertainment game.