Last night I went to see the recently released blockbuster, Avatar, whose stunning 3-D and digital effetcs are set to “change the face of filmmaking forever”.
This much anticipated follow-up from Titanic director James Cameron is no doubt an amazing visual experience– at times even breathtaking– but the tired plotline, bad script and the fact that the movie was just too long, made it taxing to sit through.
Worst of are all though, are the problematic narratives about the noble savage, “primitive” native cultures and the way in which colonization, white privilege and white guilt is played out.
This article pretty much sums up the real issues with the story of movies like Avatar, and the ones before it, and probably the ones after it.
It is aptly titled: When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like “Avatar”?
Critics have called alien epic Avatar a version of Dances With Wolves because it’s about a white guy going native and becoming a great leader. But Avatar is just the latest scifi rehash of an old white guilt fantasy. Spoilers…
Whether Avatar is racist is a matter for debate. Regardless of where you come down on that question, it’s undeniable that the film – like alien apartheid flick District 9, released earlier this year – is emphatically a fantasy about race. Specifically, it’s a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people. Avatar and scifi films like it give us the opportunity to answer the question: What do white people fantasize about when they fantasize about racial identity?…
These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color – their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the “alien” cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become “race traitors,” and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It’s not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it’s not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It’s a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.
Also, the ‘Time Out London’ review of the movie concludes, “Ultimately, Cameron’s signature achievement may have been to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the oldest of all Hollywood maxims: all the money in the world is no subsitute for fresh ideas and a solid script.”