Tag Archives: Avatar

Avatar: novel push for noble savage

Avatar movie poster based on the novel by SapphireI’d like to contrast the high-profile critical receptions being given two Hollywood films about darker-skinned-ness. Precious is about an African-American girl so dark she absorbs the light, without being about race at all. The movie tells a story of poverty, incest and the cycle of abuse, while tipping the scales with gratuitous stereotypes of Hottentot welfare mamas attendant their usual good-for-trouble black males. Vilifying the subjects it pretends to rescue, Precious has the blessing of the media, a shameless Oprah included. James Cameron’s Avatar on the other hand, opened to depth-charges of faint praise calculated to dim the buzz, perhaps because it packs the most subversive black-is-beautiful message since Muhammad Ali.

Avatar evokes rudimentary indigenous spirituality, peppered with what even elementary-schooled audiences can associate as Native American themes, from which we can infer the concepts are eternal, but idealizes an athletic aesthetic more human than the movie’s live-action characters. The “blue cat people,” as the critics have chosen to describe its Na’vi tribe, are but fantasy-striped, tailed Spartans, computer iterations of the Williams sisters and NBA dream teams. The real humans of Avatar tower in prowess, dignity and luminescence over their modern mensch oppressors.

Where racial equality on film is plotted according to how black figures are granted access to the world of white priviledge, Avatar celebrates the sovereignty of dark skin in its environment, where it’s not a barbershop, rapper’s crib, or street corner in Harlem. And instead of prepping the more palatable light-skinned negro for easier assimilation to the welcome-diversity crowd.

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, is an ugly project by and for gentrified American, whose title character is White-America’s usual avatar into their mysterious conception of Black America. I can do it no better justice than this review excerpt published Counterpunch:

A fiction whose “policy message is that welfare recipients are black women who wish to avoid work, who use their time having sex with their daughters, watching television and dining on pig leavings.” Is this a film – or a crime?

A crock and defamation that reinforces white man’s supremist burden.

Under Iran’s culturally repressive Islamic Revolution, the artists have produced a golden age of film. The greatest of these films have had to disguise their social message in analogies surrounding the concerns of children. Avatar takes perhaps a similar tack. Behind diversions of fantasy and special effects, is a profound morality tale. Critics can attack James Cameron for his simplistic storytelling, it’s the price to pay to bring the simplest of viewers along. Perhaps the director can release a final cut for cineastes which omits the redundant exposition. I don’t mind that Cameron uses a highlighter for the Cliftnote set. A survey of online comments shows me that some fans applaud themselves for getting Avatar’s message where they are certain their fellow audience members might not.

Most certainly the alarm most critics are raising has to do with the unpatriotic attitude which Avatar takes toward Capitalist imperialism. In GWOT America where we still “Support Our Troops” and still refrain from labeling our military contractors as mercenaries, this film will rub flag wavers the wrong way. I’d hate to be an active duty US soldier, watching Avatar in my uniform, as the audience roots for good to vanquish evil. It will probably be some time before Americans will want to see Iraqi or Afghan freedom fighters depicted as heroes. We’ve yet to see sympathetic accounts for example of the Vietcong holding down the Ho Chi Min Trail, or for that matter, the real Germans or Japanese beyond the Allied propaganda. But by disguising his story in science fiction, James Cameron has rehabilitated the Vandal and Visigoth, from the shadow of the Roman Empire. The shadow of man’s civilizing drive which grows darker the more it is illuminated.

And best of all, Cameron’s pagans are not whites like the typical Anglo Semites of the Christian holy lands. Cameron’s indigenous humans have the beautiful noses, skin and haunches indigenous to the climates which cradled humankind.