Avatar's 'ugly' message

The $500 million epic is setting the box office alight — but does it traffic in racist stereotypes?

Is "Avatar" racist?
(Image credit: Screenshot)

James Cameron's newly released CGI blockbuster is set to shatter box office records in the weeks and months ahead. But while most critics agree that "Avatar" uses its sci-fi plot as a metaphor for a range of geopolitical issues, some argue that the film caters to "white guilt" — the plot centers around white Jake Sully's efforts to save the Na’vi tribe on the planet Pandora — and plays on ugly and dated racial stereotypes. Is "Avatar" an offensive white fantasy?

Cameron has made a racist film: "Avatar" has a "nauseatingly patronising" racist subtext, says Will Heaven at the Daily Telegraph. With their "Maasai-style" clothing and "dreadlocked" hair, the Na’vi aliens are a "childish pastiche of the ethnic" who must rely on the "principled white man" — protagonist Jake Sully — to "lead them out of danger." How did this famously "left-wing director" make a film with such an "ugly mindset?"

"James Cameron's Avatar is a stylish film marred by its racist subtext"

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It’s more well-meaning than that: Avatar may not be racist but it is undeniably a "fantasy about race," says Annalee Newitz on I09.com. Jake Sully's efforts to save the Na’vi aliens is just a "sci-fi rehash of an old white guilt fantasy" that dates back to "genocide" Europeans perpetrated against Native Americans. But well-meaning characters like Sully are just "a sneaky way of turning every story about people of color into a story about being white." And directors should resist that impulse.

"When will white people stop making movies like Avatar?"

Cameron’s not racist…but Hollywood is: While Cameron throws around "racial power dynamics" in an "unsettling" way, says Remington at The Moving Image, the fault comes from higher than that. You can imagine studio executives saying Jake’s character is necessary "for the audience to connect with," rather than having the world saved by one of these alien "blue people." The only problem with that is all Hollywood leading roles end up as white male characters — "unless your name is Will Smith."

"Avatar: "Totally racist, dude"



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