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"Horrible and Racist": Natives call for Avatar 2 boycott over cultural appropriation

Is Avatar 2 horrible and racist? (image via 20th Century Studios)
Is Avatar 2 horrible and racist? (Image via 20th Century Studios)

James Cameron's Avatar 2 has hit theaters and is currently one of the biggest films of this year. In less than a week, it has surpassed the $500 million mark, an impressive feat for the sequel to Avatar, which was one of the biggest flicks in 2009.

As such, the film owes much of its credit to James Cameron and the magic he set for the film with beautiful cinematography, amazing visuals, and extraordinary work on CGI and action sequences. The director has also spoken in multiple interviews about the direction and inspiration behind Avatar 2 to keep it trending in the social media platforms.

Unfortunately, the film, much like the original, has drawn criticism from various communities around the world, particularly the Native Americans, who have levied accusations against James Cameron for having a "white savior complex."

Twitter user @asdza_tlehonaei, a Navajo artist, took to the social media platform and wrote:

"Do NOT watch Avatar: The Way of Water"

Elaborating on her statement, she added:

"Join Natives & other indigenous groups around the world in boycotting this horrible & racist film. Our cultures were appropriated in a harmful manner to satisfy some white man's savior complex. No more Blueface! Lakota people are powwerful"
Do NOT watch Avatar: The Way of WaterJoin Natives & other Indigenous groups around the world in boycotting this horrible & racist film. Our cultures were appropriated in a harmful manner to satisfy some 馃彸 man's savior complex.No more Blueface!Lakota people are powerful! https://t.co/NmHVU565u3

James Cameron's statements from the past resurface online in the wake of Avatar 2's theatrical release

Jake and Neyitri in Avatar (Image via 20th Century Studios/Disney)
Jake and Neyitri in Avatar (Image via 20th Century Studios/Disney)

According to fans and critics, both Avatar and Avatar 2 have been used by James Cameron to project his guilt about how the people of indigenous descent have been treated by the Europeans.

What is rather ironic is that the director made a white man named Jake Sully, the protagonist of both films, a person who eventually becomes a part of the N'avi tribe, an indigenous group who live in Pandora. A former spy, Jake fights the humans, or "white humans," to protect the N'avi people and preserve their culture.

Both Avatar 2 and the first film were accused of cultural appropriation, and it felt more blatant and deliberate in the case of the sequel film, where the culture of the Metkayina people mirrored the culture of the Maori, an indigenous group comprising of Polynesian people native to New Zealand.

The Metkayina in Avatar 2 (Image via 20th Century Studios/Disney)
The Metkayina in Avatar 2 (Image via 20th Century Studios/Disney)

Moreover, in an interview with The Guardian in 2010, James Cameron said something that brought more heat to him from Native Americans and other indigenous people who were critical of Avatar.

Cameron was against the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon rainforests, which had threatened the living of the Brazilian Xingu. He said this served as a driving force for the narrative in Avatar, especially the fight between the N'avi and the "Sky People" or humans, who wanted to extract Unobtanium:

"A real-life Avatar confrontation is in progress. I felt like I was 130 years back in time watching what the Lakota Sioux might have been saying at a point when they were being pushed and they were being killed and they were being asked to displace and they were being given some form of compensation."

He further continued:

"This was a driving force for me in the writing of Avatar - I couldn't help but think that if they [The Lakota Sioux] had had a time-window and they could see the future...and they could see their kids committing suicide at the highest suicide rates in the nation...because they were hopeless and they were a dead-end society - which is what is happening now - they would have fought a lot harder."
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Several netizens believed that James Cameron's statements means that Lakota colonizers should fight even harder. Following the release of Avatar 2, many of his past statements resurfaced on the internet, where several people decided not to support him or his films from thereon out.

Yeah, James Cameron basically saying Native communities might have fought harder against colonization if they knew the suicide rates of Native youth today is just not cool on every single level so no, I will not be seeing his movies or supporting him ever.
@asdza_tlehonaei Also, why did he not hire more indigenous actors or POC to represent and show hommage because clearly, the Na'vi are a blend of many indigenous cultures? The fact that you have white actors putting on ethnic accents that are meant to sound indigenous just felt wrong to me.
@asdza_tlehonaei @MyeongPanda the fact so much of the water tribe is based off m膩ori culture and majority of the ppl in the water tribe are played by non m膩ori people is just.. 馃あ
@asdza_tlehonaei I鈥檒l admit, I liked the franchise. But as a watched the first film, I started to notice how,,, weird it felt to see this alien race based on real indigenous people. I will not watch the new film now, even if I鈥檓 disappointed, it鈥檚 the least I can do.
@asdza_tlehonaei The first one was straight up "Great White Savior" and it sounds like this is just worse.

Besides that, Twitter user @asdza_tlehonaei wrote in an open letter to shed more on her criticism towards Avatar 2, stating:

"This is unacceptable! Black and indigenous people are more than enough to play aliens based on us. We should've been the ones whose faces and voices appeared in on the screen. We are the experts in portraying our hurt, suffering, and more importantly, our resilience."

Adding to what she views as Cameron's ironic hypocrisy, she wrote:

"My Lakota relatives were one of the most powerful people the United States came across. They did fight. They won. Their ancestors would be proud of their descendants for thriving, living, and just existing with their culture intact. But you do not show that in your films. Instead, you choose to show or glorify colonialism. White people being aliens based on actual indigenous people. That's colonialism. That's colonization."

She concluded her piece by asking the director to make it right and hire indugenous people and their expertise, stressing that he was only a guest in their lands and not their leader:

"Make it right. Hire us! Hire our experts in your writing rooms, as your consultants, as your talent, and as your leaders. Stop trying to lead. You are NOT our leader. You are an outsider. A guest to our lands and culture. Act like it."

Do you think Avatar 2 is "horrible and racist"? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Edited by Priya Majumdar
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