Don’t believe what you hear about Avatar’s racism

By Dwight Hobbes
Guest Commentator


I remember well last year’s accusations that the hit film Avatar has racist overtones. Undertones. Something. Never thought about it twice. Hollywood making a racist movie is not exactly man-bites-dog news.

And didn’t go see Avatar. My loss. Until I swung by my favorite DVD dealer — the pawn shop, where it’s $2.50 a pop — and for the pure hell of it, picked up a copy.

Turns out, the knee-jerk nay-saying was just that. Nonsense. If anything, Avatar indicts racist society as being inherently inhumane. It’s a decent social statement in a gorgeous sci-fi fantasy setting with a helping of hold-on-to-your-asterisk adventure thrown in.

You always get these so-called representatives of the people, the community, who like jackasses braying at the weather cry “Foul!” at the drop of a hat. The prevailing principle is “I complain, therefore I am.”

There’s also, don’t forget, the business of keeping a profile high as possible, and nothing gets that job done better than jumping up and down about racism.

You know the type.

There is absolutely no denying that Pandora’s aboriginal populace will put you in mind of Africans a bit and Native Americans a lot. In respectful fashion as concerns both.

You ever hear some wondrously open-minded individual say of a social group, “I don’t care if a person is blue”? Sure, you have. Well, the Na’vi are exactly that. Blue. And skinny as six o’clock. Fairly feline in appearance, actually, including a long, twitching tail.

There are no stereotypes — noble, savage or otherwise. The worst that really can be said of Avatar is that the closing action scenes could’ve done an even better job of empowering the female lead than the film already does by women with four fully dimensional characters all of whom are central to the story.

For good measure, there is one hell of an appeal to ecologists as the fates of Pandora’s plants, animals and people are all inextricably linked.

Avatar’s premise: World-conquering White folk set their sights on land that doesn’t belong to them. Sound familiar? A twist here is that interlopers are on some intergalactic stuff, rocketing the planet Pandora to dispossess the indigenous Na’vi.

The Na’vi don’t have space-age technology. They are, however, highly spiritual, very much in touch with nature and minding their own business.

Unfortunately, they happen to have their home smack square on top of strongly coveted resources. Also sound familiar? Well, there’s another twist that, while superbly logical, you just may not see coming until it rushes up on you in the climax.

The casting of actors of color is exceptional with Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez, C.C.H. Pounder and Wes Studi. The White actors in this thing are pretty good, too. Veteran character actor and true genius Stephen Lang gets a fine showcase as a military mercenary hired on for a tour of Manifest Destiny to wipe out “the savages” in the name of progress.

Giovanni Ribisi is a slick, heartless corporate son of a witch. Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver are on hand, too.

There’s no percentage in admitting that White director and screenwriter James Cameron did a damned good job, period. He included characters of color with as much respect as any director or writer of color could have done. That’s why we got all that asinine backlash.

I doubt you’ll find as good a deal as I did on getting hold of a copy of Avatar. But, if you haven’t seen it, especially if you haven’t watched it because of all that b.s. about it being racist, do yourself a favor. Check out a pretty damned good flick.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to dhobbes@spokesman-recorder.com.