Avatar Concerns Race but is not Racist
Despite what some people have opined on the interwebby net, Avatar is not racist. I say this because after watching the movie I did not feel the slightest desire to go out and beat up Native Americans. In fact, the movie did not make me feel like going out and inflicting harm on any group currently or historically identified by race. I do not see how Avatar encourages anyone to do harm to any racial group or negatively portrays any racial group. The one group that appears to be portrayed negatively via proxy is the US armed forces, but they are generally not considered to be a race. Indeed, I would speculate that the reason some people are calling Avatar racist is precisely because something that might represent the US military is portrayed in a bad light and they don’t like it.
Avatar concerns race, but is not racist. Racism involves inflicting harm, either through action or inaction, to people on the basis of race. Encouraging people to inflict harm to people on the basis of race is racist, but Avatar doesn’t do this. People could say that the way Avatar handles race is a heavy-handed, unrealistic, incompetent, derivative, wish-fulfilling, colonialist guilt fantasy of The White Man’s Burden in 3D, and people are welcome to these opinions, but that doesn’t make it racist. It merely means the movie is not as good as the people who hold these opinions would like it to be. The good is not the enemy of the perfect.
Personally I find it encouraging at this point in history that the most expensive and potentially most successful movie of all time has the message that it is wrong to invade other people’s land and steal their resources. It is a simple message that a lot of people don’t seem to have gotten yet and so it bears repeating. I find this an encouraging development and one that James Cameron should be praised for. After all, it would have been very easy for him to have made True Lies Part II instead of Avatar.
Looking at his previous work I would say that Avatar has the most positive theme of any of James Cameron’s movies. Despite this, his other movies weren’t as heavily criticised as Avatar. The themes of his previous works were:
Terminator: Always use a condom when having sex with a man from the future.
Rambo First Blood Part II: Asian people can’t shoot straight and are vulnerable to having their armies defeated by one white guy with large muscles.
Aliens: It feels good to cheer a woman saving a human child by setting fire to alien babies. Also, despite being a different colour on the inside, androids are people too.
The Abyss: If you are in an environment that is known to drive people insane, make sure no one person has access to both the atomic bombs and the submarines.
Terminator 2: No matter how advanced the enemy killer robot is, your outdated killer robot can beat it as long as it has large muscles.
True Lies: Middle-Eastern people are evil unless they take orders from a white guy.
Titanic: Kate Winslet has a freakish liver that stores enough glygogen to keep her alive on a crate in the icy Atlantic despite spending hours having sex, running through an ocean liner and wading through freezing water.
Spiderman: Teenage boys who shoot white stuff at Kirsten Dunst shouldn’t be ashamed.
Maybe in the future I’ll write a post full of snide comments about how to me the movie Avatar seemed to be about a planet of blue elves being invaded by space hobbits. And how, now that indigenous Americans are finally starting to be portrayed sympathetically in movies, maybe in 400 years time Americans will start making movies in which Arabs are portrayed sympathetically. But for now, please don’t write or say that Avatar is racist. Instead, say that it didn’t deal with race as well as you would have liked and explain why.