Some indigenous activists and related groups in the US has started a boycott campaign urging people to abstain from watching “Avatar: The Way of Water”.
According to the Los Angeles Times (LAT) and the Washington Post (WP) on December 20th (locat time), Native Americans are slamming the 2nd installment of “Avatar” for glorification and romanticization of white colonialism, which caused great suffering to them in the past.
In particular, Yuè Begay, a Navajo artist and co-chair of a Native activist group based in LA, called for boycott on SNS platform Twitter, where she called “Avatar: The Way of Water” out for appropriating their culture “in a harmful manner to satisfy some white man’s savior complex.”
By cultural appropriation, Yuè Begay is referring to an action where members of one group borrow the culture of another group without understanding the culture. On the other hand, “white savior complex” refers to the mindset that white people have always been the ones who saved the natives and solved their crisis.
In the first “Avatar” film, a conflict between the Na’vi (natives of alien planet Pandora) and Earthlings who want to colonize the planet, was depicted. Here, the main character Jake Sully, who is a former white marine corpsman Jake Sully, helps the Na’vi and eventually becomes a member of the natives. A similar conflict is portrayed in the 2nd movie as well.
Back in a 2012 interview, Director James Cameron, who created the “Avatar” franchise, described the first “Avatar” as a “science fiction retelling of the history of North and South America in the early colonial period.” At the same time, he compared the Earthlings in “Avatar” with “military aggressors from Europe” and the Na’vi with “the indigenous peoples”.
At this, Brett Chapman, a Native American civil rights attorney, agreed with a Tweet that called “Avatar: The Way of Water” as a “nasty r*cist cash-grab” and wrote that “Avatar” was “a White savior story at its core”.
In addition, Native American TV writer Kelly Lynne D’Angelo suggested that people “maybe donate the avatar money to Native communities”, since they have taken the land, the children, the skin, and then the culture of indigenous people.
Some indigenous people also argued that “Avatar: The Way of Water” interpreted the typical characteristics of North American Indians and New Zealand native Maoris from a white perspective and then uniformly projected them onto the Na’vi in the film, claiming that these depictions romanticize and highlight stereotypes about indigenous peoples.
In particular, these people mentioned that it is inappropriate for a white man to simply “turn native” like Jake Sully, to the point he even becomes a Na’vi clan leader. The film also reduced “ta moko”, a culturally significant tattoo for Maori people into meaningless aesthetics, they said.
“I’m so tired of hearing Indigenous stories from a White perspective,” Autumn Asher BlackDeer, a professor with indigenious descendant said, adding, “We don’t need Hollywood big-budget movies. We could tell our own stories.”