Sunday, December 20, 2009

enjoy white-guilt redemption fantasies




I was going to join the masses and go see Avatar, and then I was going to write about its glaring white-centricity, but now I don't have to. Instead, I just read, and can highly recommend, an excellent take-down in precisely those terms at (of all places) Gawker.com.

This piece (excerpted below) is by a person with a familiar name, Annalee Newitz. Among her varied publications, Newitz is the co-editor of a foundational Critical Whiteness Studies volume, White Trash: Race and Class in America (she's also the author of many other smart things).

In her review of Avatar, Newitz places it in the context of other white-centered fantasies of racial redemption -- formulaic, big-money spectacles in which "a white guy manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member." Here are some excerpts from Newitz's analysis, and I highly recommend the whole thing (but not, predictably enough, the comments below it).


"When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like 'Avatar'?"

Critics have called alien epic Avatar a version of Dances With Wolves because it's about a white guy going native and becoming a great leader. But Avatar is just the latest scifi rehash of an old white guilt fantasy. Spoilers...

[It's] undeniable that the film -- like alien apartheid flick
District 9, released earlier this year -- is emphatically a fantasy about race. Specifically, it's a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people. Avatar and scifi films like it give us the opportunity to answer the question: What do white people fantasize about when they fantasize about racial identity?

Avatar imaginatively revisits the crime scene of white America's foundational act of genocide, in which entire native tribes and civilizations were wiped out by European immigrants to the American continent. In the film, a group of soldiers and scientists have set up shop on the verdant moon Pandora, whose landscapes look like a cross between Northern California's redwood cathedrals and Brazil's tropical rainforest. The moon's inhabitants, the Na'vi, are blue, catlike versions of native people: They wear feathers in their hair, worship nature gods, paint their faces for war, use bows and arrows, and live in tribes. Watching the movie, there is really no mistake that these are alien versions of stereotypical native peoples that we've seen in Hollywood movies for decades.

And Pandora is clearly supposed to be the rich, beautiful land America could still be if white people hadn't paved it over with concrete and strip malls. In
Avatar, our white hero Jake Sully (sully - get it?) explains that Earth is basically a war-torn wasteland with no greenery or natural resources left. . . .

These are movies about white guilt.
Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color -- their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the "alien" cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become "race traitors," and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It's not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it's not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It's a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.

Think of it this way.
Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege. . . . 


Read the rest here

63 comments:

  1. This is an excellent analysis, and exactly why I don't plan on seeing Avatar. As much as this has been hyped, I am so happy to see it being shunned by geeks and white people (and white geeks) not just because they think it might be boring, but because they're aware that this is the same White knight story they've seen and read countless times before.

    I polled the guys at work: some just don't like sci-fi, the majority said it seemed like a really lame story, and only 2 were going to see it. Both said they knew it had problems but just wanted to see 3D action in Imax.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wowww. I feel as though someone has just given me a huge magnifying glass. So much that I'm starting to wonder if I'm imagining things or whether this analysis goes too far...but then I think, isn't this a description of what I'm seeing all around me in the developing country that I'm in? White people (and others from developed countries) in leadership through NGOs, mining companies, diplomatic aid organizations, etc...could it be?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Cloudy what exactly is your point? So every re-hashed tale that rings similar to an older movie should be shunned by potential moviegoers. So you don't want to see the movie (which I call bullsh-t on) yet you took the time to poll a few nerds at your work. Interesting, when I dislike a movie, or lack interest in seeing it, I move on with my life.

    There's a ton of movies that slight PoC out there even now, and add to that the premise that EVERY movie can be seen as white guilt ego-stroking. Why Avatar? Is it for the SEO hit?

    Sarcasm on:
    You know while we're racializing every movie that comes out - there were no black humans in the main cast too, we should mention that. Hell the 3D was awesome but I almost walked out because the white guilt fantasy was killing me. I'm sure the Sherlock Holmes review here will be similarly broken down.

    Must be a very slow news day indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  4. >> "what exactly is your point? So every re-hashed tale that rings similar to an older movie should be shunned by potential moviegoers."

    That does not even live in the same galaxy as Cloudy's point and you know it.

    "I almost walked out because the white guilt fantasy was killing me."

    See? Toldya you knew it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love science fiction. I hate crappy science fiction. What I would *love* to see, if someone really capable could do it right, would be a movie adaptation of Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy. I would pay so much money to see that :D

    ReplyDelete
  6. Right?!

    I really cannot stand this Dances with Wolves / Last Samurai nonsense.

    "We white people are so awesome that we're even better at other people's cultures than they are, and they can't possibly succeed without one of us to lead them. Moreover, they will unquestioningly accept our leadership because they know it too.

    ...And also sleep with us."



    I love sci-fi but I had very little interest in seeing Avatar and even less now!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I saw this on i09 today and now Annalee is my new favorite blogger.

    Super, super good. Sci-fi and fantasy is an area of pop culture that is crying out for critical analysis.

    ReplyDelete
  8. To answer one of the questions asked in review: why Sully at all? Why a white protagonist?

    Because if you told this story with a full-on Navi protagonist, we would miss the delicious chance to reinforce the "life is meaningless if you are disabled" and "if you can walk again, life will be great! no matter that you are giving up everything that every meant anything to you" sentiments! Yay!

    (Not to take away from the really astounding racism of it all, but as a disabled woman I find this extremely offensive on that level as well)

    Oooh, and bonus points to Annalee Newitz for picking up on Dune as a WMS story.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I left the theater yesterday wishing that they'd taken out the entire plot of the film, as well as all the humans and the Na'vi, and just made it an hour-long Planet Earth type CGI documentary. Now THAT would have been worth 11 bucks. Almost.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you, I had no desire to see this movie again, it has been done too often. That includes King Kong,Tarzan,and every country in Africa and India etc.can attest they have lived the same movie...
    But I am happy to know so many others are now seeing how often this type movie/story is told...

    ReplyDelete
  11. Annalee Newitz sure is writing better stuff now than she was 9-10 years ago in her Salon.com days. I'm glad she found her niche. Everything she says about Avatar and its cinematic cousins is right on, though she gives short thrift to District 9, which subverted a lot of the classic tropes of this genre.

    ReplyDelete
  12. >> "though she gives short thrift to District 9, which subverted a lot of the classic tropes of this genre."

    ...Except the one where the POC actors where overwhelmingly cast as cartoony villains, and their deaths were played for laughs? (Or, to quote, If you're going to argue about a text's metaphorical or allegorical representations of race, you may want to take a look at how it treats actual people of color before forming your conclusions about the subversion of racial stereotypes..

    ReplyDelete
  13. Willow, I'm no more upset that the gangsters in South Africa were cast as Nigerians than I am when organized crime bosses are cast as Italians. And neither is anyone else in South Africa. In any case, any problems with that portrayal are orthogonal to the Stuff White People [are] Do[ing] with Avatar, Dances with Wolves, et al.

    And I didn't say that District 9 subverted racial stereotypes: I said that it subverted cinematic _tropes_ of the "white person/American joins up with an leads the noble savages/foreigners" genre.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Greg Dragon, I think you are way too personally invested in this film.

    It doesn't just "ring similar", it's a white supremacist literary and cinematic cliche that's as original as "sexually active teens get murdered by masked madman". Only unlike the slasher genre, it insults the audience's intelligence by asserting itself as deep and educational, when it's really just mental masturbation for white folks with guilt issues but no desire to truly change. And also when you know exactly how the story will play out, it's quite boring.

    And I'm still loling at "but you took the time to poll a few nerds at work". It's called conversation with your work buddies.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I saw this on Friday and the animation & 3D are simply stunning. You've never seen anything like it before--you really have not.

    This analysis, however, is completely on point & true. I got bored with this plot & just wanted to see all about the Na'vi. Forget the humans!

    THE ONLY THING I can think of that Jake was actually needed for was to show the Na'vi how to best their technology. I think the Na'vi would've, on their own, gotten together to battle the invaders.

    I would've much preferred the entire movie to be about the Na'vi.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I saw this on Friday. Yes, the effects are awesome. But, I knew basically what this film's premise was:

    MIGHTY WHITEY DOES IT AGAIN!

    ReplyDelete
  17. THE ONLY THING I can think of that Jake was actually needed for was to show the Na'vi how to best their technology. I think the Na'vi would've, on their own, gotten together to battle the invaders.

    That is why I should write more stuff!

    In my script, the Na'vi would've gotten a human as a POW and gotten the weaknesses of human technology that way. Y'know, sorta like they do in a war.

    Just like I want to do the arrival of Europeans in America where the Native Americans are the main characters. Sorta like "Pathfinder," but without Karl Urban (much love for Dr. McCoy, but - damn).

    ReplyDelete
  18. I agree with this take. I have always seen alien invasion movies as metaphors for colonialism. And movies about humans who blend into non-white societies are meant to ameliorate white guilt about colonialism.

    I always joke that whites understand equality as white people get to ride the high horse and everyone else keep on the low horses; whites get to be the hero and everyone else get to be the sidekicks. As long as white superiority complex exists, there will never be true equality.

    PS. Ursula K Le Guin's "Left Hand of Darkness" has a similar concept--a human on an alien world filled with humanoids who gets caught up in the politics of the alien's world. However, the hero in Le Guin's story is black, and you don't know it until the alien points it out, as a matter of curiosity about humans. It's not preachy about race at all.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Greg Dragon, Zoe Saldana (Na'vi) is black. She's a black woman of African descent from the Domican Republic. She's culturally Hispanic, but racially black.

    ReplyDelete
  20. The perfect analogy is that of the conquistadores versus the Inca empire. Spain didn't go to South America to colonize it, but only to pillage it and bring gold back. The humans are doing the same thing in Avatar. So a comparison to colonialism isn't quite on the mark.

    ReplyDelete
  21. You can probably add "The Phantom" to the list of "whitey goes native and becomes the most kickass native of all" stories. Maybe even "The Karate Kid 2" as well.

    These kind of movies are related to the expectation from filmmakers that moviegoers won't relate to a movie about POCs unless a white man is the main character (see The Forbidden Kingdom, Cry Freedom, The Last King of Scotland).

    @ careful now - um, so who did end up colonizing the Inca Empire then? I believe they speak Spanish there now...

    ReplyDelete
  22. @Mel:

    Greg Dragon, Zoe Saldana (Na'vi) is black. She's a black woman of African descent from the Domican Republic. She's culturally Hispanic, but racially black.

    "Culturally Hispanic, but racially black"? WTF? BTW, she would disagree with you.

    ReplyDelete
  23. RVCBard, forgive me, but those quotes don't seem to change what Mel said? She considers herself black, and she is latina. I know it's a little confusing because many people use latino/hispanic to mean racially native north american. There are native, black, white, Asian, etc latinos :)

    ReplyDelete
  24. @Eurasian Sensation:

    Yes eventually the Spanish and Portuguese did colonize central and south america but that was not their initial motive for going there. On the other hand, the first European migrants who went to north america went there with the explicit intent of settling there, not to secure and bring back riches. My point is that the premise of Avatar is explicitly the Spanish model, not the north american model.

    ReplyDelete
  25. @Cloudy:

    Zoe Saldana DOES NOT identify as Latina. I don't know how much more simply I could put it.

    ReplyDelete
  26. RVCBard, the two are not mutually exclusive
    http://www.latinaroom.com/news/2009/05/zoe_saldana_8_b.jpg

    ReplyDelete
  27. Have you read Armond White's review? It would appeal to people like you.

    While I can see where the analysis is coming from, I don't feel it applies as strongly to this particular movie. Where were you when "300" was released?

    ReplyDelete
  28. As a cinematic event this movie is simply on another level (if you are going to watch it, you must watch it in 3D), plot wise however...well let's just say that I'm used to this kind of story from Hollywood.

    Ten minutes into the film, I knew how the story was going to play out (in terms of Jake Sully's infiltration of and eventual domination of a Na'vi tribe). Indeed certain parts of the film just made me cringe (poor Tsu'Tey aka Laz Alonzo).

    ReplyDelete
  29. @Cloudy:

    You're right. I was wrong. How's that?

    ReplyDelete
  30. Though the plot for Avatar was ho-hum, this movie should be seen for the cinematic effects alone. It was simply amazing and watching it in 3D really was fantastic.

    This isn't a colonization movie (they're on the planet to mine ore), but it does have "white guilt" overtones. Honestly, although the story was incredibly cliche, I found the animation and effects so astounding that I was able to put that aside and enjoy the film.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Elsariel wrote,

    Honestly, although the story was incredibly cliche, I found the animation and effects so astounding that I was able to put that aside and enjoy the film.

    Yes, cliched, and racist, but whatever, just shut up and be a good consumer, right? We're trained to do that, and it's fun! Let's just give up our money, pull up some popcorn and watered-down high fructose corn syrup, turn off our brains, our morals, and our empathy and have FUN!

    Not me, thanks. I'm all for fun, but not racist fun.

    Why are you even reading this blog, Elsariel? Seriously, I have to wonder just what you're getting out of it. This movie has mere "white guilt overtones"? No -- even a cursory reading of Newitz's analysis shows that it's racial portrayals are much worse than that.

    So, because it's such a great spectacle, we should ignore that and see it anyway? I disagree -- I think a movie, especially such a popular movie, that perpetuates ongoing, insidious, and pervasive white supremacist fantasies should be rejected, and in a more collective way, boycotted.

    By the way, Racialicious just reposted a response to Newitz's review that's along the lines of what I'm trying to say -- I also suggest reading that awesome comment.

    ReplyDelete
  32. [From the usual Robin, who is getting very sick of cookie issues. Also, warning for spoilers, although anybody who read Annalee's article probably is fine with spoilers.]

    I saw Avatar in IMAX 3D last night. It was... well, there really aren't any words. For two and a half hours, nobody in that theater visibly moved, nobody coughed, nobody made noise, nobody got up to use the bathroom. Everyone was mesmerized by the movie. I don't even know when I last felt that sense of pure wonder. It is beautiful, and thrilling, and emotional. There were times when I cried (yes, me, the woman who never cries) and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Once the movie ended, I tried to stand up and my legs were numb, and I realized that I hadn't even moved my body once during the entire time.

    As for Annalee's "analysis", I don't usually use quotes to show derision, but I'm going to in this case because of one very basic fact: she hasn't seen the movie and she's drawing her conclusions based on what she's read from others. She isn't analyzing the source material! She makes some serious factual errors about the movie, and some major parts of her analysis are flawed or incorrect as a result.

    In the comments the commenter "Dragonfliet" makes an excellent summary of the ways her article gets it wrong, and at the end of their exchange, Annalee admits she'll have to actually see the movie. (His comment starts with I think that this is a predictable, but ultimately very, very flawed examination. While I agree that this movie presents an overtly obvious and simplistic retelling of the colonization of the new world (and in this movie they very literally are stealing the land--the very rock the people live on--of the people) and I also concur on the frustration of having the white man being the leader, there is far more to consider., in case anyone just wants to do a search for it.) If you're interested in seeing the ways her article missed it, his/her comment pretty much sums it up quite effectively.

    I'm not saying there isn't anything problematic about this movie from a racism standpoint, because there is. Ultimately it *is* a Honkey Savior trope to a good extent (although, as Dragonfliet points out, there's important nuances that aren't quite the same), and I have some cultural-appropriation issues with certain things about the Na'vi that seem to draw very heavily from some indigenous cultures (ways of dress, weaponry, the look of their rituals), etc.

    But no, it isn't strictly Honkey Savior. He steps up to fill a role (which is that of military advisor because he has experience with the human military, not really of overall leader - he defers to the Na'vi leader) and at the end of the movie he is quite clear that his role is no longer needed, and he won't be filling it anymore. Also, as Annalee missed because she didn't see the movie, he *does* give up his white privilege - he literally lets his human body die for the hope that he may become a true Na'vi in his avatar body.

    And no, it isn't a Noble Savage trope (as I've seen expressed elsewhere), because their connection to their planet is actually biologically real - it isn't some idealized hocus-pocus "spirituality". (Woo, two instances of derisive quotes in a single response!)

    I guess I'm just disappointed that a lot of Annalee's analysis gets it wrong because it's a GIGO situation - she draws conclusions based on how she thinks the story went, rather than actually watching it first. So it isn't any kind of decisive analysis of the movie, because she isn't analyzing the movie. She's analyzing her expectations of the movie.

    I wish she had seen the movie first and then written an article about the ways the movie *is* problematic, rather than analyzing her expectations of the movie and getting some big parts of it wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Oooh, and bonus points to Annalee Newitz for picking up on Dune as a WMS story.

    No, Dune wasn't. Paul went insane with the vision that he saw as his destiny over his own power-grab, became a gutless spineless leader as soon as he took power from the Emperor, and then wandered into the desert to go insane. Subversion at best.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Frank Herbert subverts this basic story by making the Fremen prophecy about an outsider becoming the Mahdi a partial fabrication built around ideas and patterns planted by the Bene Gesserit in order to protect their members should they be trapped on Arrakis. Paul and Lady Jessica knowingly take advantage of the prophecy for their own survival and later Paul uses it for his revenge. Herbert has said of heroes, ""The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Much better [to]rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes." In the second book, "heroic" Paul has become an ineffectual leader whose followers have gone out of control launching a jihad in his name that kills billions. Instead of dealing with the consequences of his actions, he ends by wandering into the desert to die like a Fremen -- only to return years later as a crazy prophet mocking his own empire.

    The Fremen aren't truly native to Arrakis, they are descendants of colonists, the Zensunni wanderers who were exiled from the more civilized parts of the universe. Unlike the later colonists they adapted to the desert environment rather than wanting force to the environment to adapt to humans

    ReplyDelete
  35. RVCBard, Zoe Saldana is racially black (of African Descent). Being born in Spanish-speaking country doesn't mean you cannot be racially black. Most ppl from the DR ARE of African descent.
    Check out Zoe's imdb.com page, for her quotes on this. She's culturally Hispanic, racially black. She's Afro-Latina.

    ReplyDelete
  36. @Mel:

    "Racially black"? Uh. Huh.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I can see how all of this makes sense. A lot of sense. There's a lot that can be said about the story in Avatar.

    But it is just so easy to ignore. The pure and simple beauty of the artwork and graphics are too good to pass up.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Robin,

    Think about it, though. He gave up his body (white privilege) after he realized that he couldn't go back. After he was tagged a "race traitor", the decision was made easier for him to become a physical Na'Vi.

    As for the noble savage, yes, there are aspects of that trope in the movie. The "biologically-tied" idea isn't so different from being "spiritually-tied" to their planet. Mother Earth is deemed so because she feeds us spiritually and biologically (via plants, etc.)

    Sometimes, we as filmgoers, see things different due to experience. White viewers, sometimes through no fault of their own, see film through their white eyes and desire the "others" to do the same; thus, denying them their voice. Just because you didn't see it doesn't mean it wasn't there.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Just because you didn't see it doesn't mean it wasn't there.

    And doesn't mean folks don't have a right to be upset about it.

    ReplyDelete
  40. @ Dunester:

    Oh, I agree. But I still think Paul qualifies as a WMS. (Much of my thoughts along this line have more to do with the 'male' than the 'white' part and I have no wish to go that far OT. So suffice to say, we are both right).

    @ alis:

    >> "There's a lot that can be said about the story in Avatar. But it is just so easy to ignore."

    Not for everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  41. @RVCBard (& Cloudy & Mel),
    Wait a minute. Are you wrong? [Note: I know nothing about Zoe Saldana. I don't think I've ever heard of her before. So the quotes you linked to, and Cloudy's magazine cover, are literally all I have to go on in this matter.] I don't think the magazine cover dismisses the quote. If she was in Star Trek and promoting it, I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see her in a black women's magazine as well. There are only so many blockbuster level WOC actors to pick from, after all. And we WOC routinely do double- or triple-duty as representative icons of gender and race, amirite? Anyway. Leaving her, personally, aside...

    In the quote, she says emphatically that she's black— as opposed to dark-skinned. In this context, it looks like black + "culturally Hispanic," = "dark-skinned." In other words, isn't the difference between "black" and "dark-skinned" cultural in this particular context (ie: a Dominican marking the difference, and the actual question on the table being "do you consider yourself Dominican or American")? Otherwise, both the initial response ("Well, I'm black.") and the counter-response ("No, you're dark-skinned.") don't really make sense. As for Soldana herself, adding the magazine cover into it just leads me to conclude that she claims at least two cultures (Black American and Latina/Dominican-American). Which: shrug. She's from Queens. Makes sense to me.

    All of which is to say: I think your alleged wrongness is kind of arguable. Cloudy is definitely correct though: "Latin@/Hispanic" is not a racial category. According to the gov't. (And so, as far as they're concerned, that whole racial category doesn't exist. Which, of course, is true! But "black" and "white" also don't exist.)

    ReplyDelete
  42. @ Macon:
    Dangit! There's another Kari. (This is rare!) I'm lowercase kari. I'm usually karinova, but apparently I'm logged in to my Google account. I don't know how long I've been posting like this...

    I'll go back to Name/URL so I can be karinova again.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Yeah man it's so true White Guilt Fantasy is a stellar and indept analysis of these movie lines.

    PS

    You ever notice Dune is based on Iraq.
    Arrakis=Iraq
    Spice=Oil
    Madhi= The Hidden Mahdi
    The Fremen = Arabs (both desert peoples)

    ReplyDelete
  44. Random and unrelated to Avatar:

    What's everyone's view on this here?

    ReplyDelete
  45. I've gotten a lot out of your blog Macon, A LOT. This blog has opened my eyes to a lot of things I was completely oblivious to. I'm not done learning and I will continue to learn from this blog and others.

    That being said, I'm not going to apologize for having gone to see Avatar. I knew the storyline was another space-faring-humans-travel-to-beautiful-planet-and-attempt-to-destroy-it-with-their-greed-and-arrogance king of movie (hence why I thought it was cliche). Even so, being the sci-fi/fantasy geek that I am, there was no way I was going to miss seeing this beautifully animated movie in 3D.

    When I got out of the theater, I thought the movie spoke more to environmentalism than anything else. In retrospect, I can definitly see where "white guilt" has come into play in this storyline. Even so, I'm not going to condemn this movie for it.

    As Robin said, even though it's annoying to see yet another white male character as lead, he did ultimately give up his white supremacy (human supremacy?) and became a full Navi, fully embracing and honoring their lives and culture.

    You can choose to not watch it for your own reasons and I won't judge you. I just hope that I can have that same courtesy, too.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Thanks for the response, Elsariel, though your first and now second comment still make me wonder just what the "a LOT" is that you're getting from this blog. I'm led to think that you're not reading very carefully, and to wonder if you're reading selectively, filtering out anything that strikes too close to home for you. I was dismayed by your first comment because you've been a regular commenter here for awhile, and yet, all you seem to see in this post's analysis of a major racism vehicle (the Number One movie right now) is some vague "white guilt" thing; you don't seem to be reading it carefully, and yet you chose to comment anyway. Why? As I see it, you did so in order to brush aside what this post has to say in favor of defending the film, and defending it for other reasons. That's a form of derailment, no?

    I see you doing there what most white people do more generally, that is, feeling vaguely aware of the racism that they're basically supporting, but shoving that awareness aside, because fully acknowledging it would taint or spoil some privileged pleasure. Yes, I do "judge" that sort of blithe, comfortable, and repressive white oblivion (which is not to say that I don't still do it too -- I am trained to be white, after all); If I weren't judgmental of that kind of thought and behavior, I wouldn't be writing this blog.

    Re the end of the movie and the white protagonist becoming "a full Navi, fully embracing and honoring their lives and culture," did you read Honeybrown1976's response above to that increasingly common white defense of this movie? Here it is again, in response to the point by Robin that you raised:

    Think about it, though. He gave up his body (white privilege) after he realized that he couldn't go back. After he was tagged a "race traitor", the decision was made easier for him to become a physical Na'Vi.

    As for the noble savage, yes, there are aspects of that trope in the movie. The "biologically-tied" idea isn't so different from being "spiritually-tied" to their planet. Mother Earth is deemed so because she feeds us spiritually and biologically (via plants, etc.)

    Sometimes, we as filmgoers, see things different due to experience. White viewers, sometimes through no fault of their own, see film through their white eyes and desire the "others" to do the same; thus, denying them their voice.


    Basically, I think you're seeing this film through "white eyes," and I also think that's more of a problem than you want to acknowledge.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Elsariel Y'know, it is totally possible to enjoy something AND critique the hell out of it.

    I enjoyed the amazing, visual stunning CGI of Avatar. I can admire the work that went into it and how it's definitely a game changer. However, I can still totally condemn it for it's "Dances With Smurfs" vibe.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Macon D, I don't Elsariel was saying that at all. But by all means, continue to freak out on behalf of all us colored folks. Because if Hollywood has taught us anything, we need a white boy to rise up as our defender.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Okay Ee Vee Elle, from one respectful white boy to a non-white person, what do you think Elsariel was saying?

    ReplyDelete
  50. All I was saying is that I thoroughly enjoyed the visual beauty and innovation of the film and, at the same time, was not impressed with the plot.

    I've repeatedly said that. I'm not sure what you want from me, Macon. I highly respect you, your blog, and the wonderful people here and I really don't see why I can't both like and dislike the movie on different merits.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I highly respect you, your blog, and the wonderful people here

    You have a funny way of showing it.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Elsariel, the promblem is how defensive you are about liking Dances with Wolves meets Gran Torino meets Ferngully meets the Blue Man Group. Do you understand how privliged "Well I don't CARE what you think, I'm PROUD to like it, and it wasn't that bad!" sounds??

    ReplyDelete
  53. [who discovered that while her PC's cookies are messed up, the Macbook's aren't - yay, I have my ID back!]

    @Honeybrown1974, who said Think about it, though. He gave up his body (white privilege) after he realized that he couldn't go back. After he was tagged a "race traitor", the decision was made easier for him to become a physical Na'Vi.

    Can't say I agree. When the colonel accused him of being a race traitor, there was nothing but amusement in his response; there was no hurt or upset about it. I don't think he had any desire to go back whatsoever, or any plans to return to humanity - throughout the story they'd been building that arc (for example, with him discussing how his human life seemed more and more like a dream, and the Na'vi life seemed real).

    As for the noble savage, yes, there are aspects of that trope in the movie. The "biologically-tied" idea isn't so different from being "spiritually-tied" to their planet. Mother Earth is deemed so because she feeds us spiritually and biologically (via plants, etc.)

    It's probably because I'm a hardcore atheist, but I see a vast difference between the idea of being able to literally plug yourself into the earth and control things/receive information, as versus eating things grown in the earth. (I'm not even going to touch "spiritually", because I honestly don't get the whole concept of a spiritual connection with anything.)

    Sometimes, we as filmgoers, see things different due to experience. White viewers, sometimes through no fault of their own, see film through their white eyes and desire the "others" to do the same; thus, denying them their voice. Just because you didn't see it doesn't mean it wasn't there.

    This is true. And I certainly can't claim that I am right and anyone else is wrong; all I can say is that this was how I saw it, which may well be due to my whiteness or other aspects of being that change my perspective.

    As an aside - did nobody else have concerns about the cultural appropriation? Nobody else has brought that up, that I've seen. Am I overreacting there?

    (For the record, I do still adamantly stand by one of my major initial points, which is that Annalee screwed up by not seeing the movie first. There's no excuse for pulling something out of your ass and pretending it's an educated critique. Do your research prior to writing an analysis.)

    ReplyDelete
  54. Well, here is an unoriginal and pretty imperceptive post about Avatar in general (OMG it's an ALLEGORY?! NO WAY!)-- but that's not why I'm posting the link. The article is followed by the most atrocious comments that pretty well represent a large chunk of the discussion (read: racist statements followed by denials of racism) around the white redemption fantasy that is Avatar. Beware: the comments will frustrate you immensely.

    'Avatar': Fun Fantasy or Political Statement? - Inside Movies

    ReplyDelete
  55. @looking glazz: Somebody actually Godwinned on the very first page of comments. That has to be some sort of record.

    ReplyDelete
  56. @Robin-- I KNOW! I just felt like the comments section on that article really well represented the usual "discussion" about race that you see on comment boards-- blogs like this one not included. It drives me crazy. Hateful, uninformed people spouting their crazy like it's gospel (and sometimes they even claim it's gospel). Frustrating. And that's why I read this blog...actual discussion and dialogue.

    ReplyDelete
  57. @Elsariel:

    One can acknowledge that content is problematic and simultaneously enjoy it. If I tell people I really love H.P. Lovecraft's work, even though some of his stories are absurdly racist, I don't think that is a racist statement to make. I may be wrong, but I'm not sure how I could viscerally be more bothered by problematic content. If I defend Lovecraft from accusations of racism and silence or deny the knowledge of PoC who are trying to discuss Lovecraft's racism, I'm supporting racism.

    At this point in human history, there are an enormous number of great stories with problematic subtexts, and those subtexts will bother some people more than others. Shakespeare and the other Important Authors who repeatedly come up in college reading lists almost universally have some racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist/transphobic/etc. themes. This diminishes, but does not eliminate, the value of their work. Respecting other people's right to be bothered (instead of saying they're "too sensitive" or otherwise insulting them) and trying to discourage the creation of new problematic works is really all one can do. I know some people who downloaded Avatar, because they wanted to see the special effects for themselves but didn't want to spend any money on a racist film.

    I'm not usually as bothered by racist subtexts as I am by sexist or homophobic ones, but I have friends who thoroughly enjoy misogynistic stories - for example, some mainstream American comics. As long as they're not a) denying that the work is problematic or b) carrying over such stories' attitudes into real life, I have no issue with that enjoyment.

    ReplyDelete
  58. I'm not usually as bothered by racist subtexts as I am by sexist or homophobic ones

    Why is that?

    ReplyDelete
  59. ^^Maybe it's because she's not part of a racialized group.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Maybe it's because she's not part of a racialized group.

    Yeah, and I notice that White people often say things like that when it comes up. I find it curious that White people often attempt to compartmentalize different systems of oppression, generally to the effect of minimizing the impact of racism.

    However, in discourse with other WOC, I've noticed we're much more able to acknowledge the effects of various oppressions while still being able to focus on one in the context of a particular discussion.

    Even when the discussion is not racism per se, I've noticed that WOC are able to understand and bring to bear an analysis of, say, sexism, that accounts for class and sexuality and race (amongst other things) as well as gender.

    So it makes me wonder why that's so.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Yeah. Being more comfortable with fictional sexism is generally a privilege of those who aren't targeted by it, and being more comfortable with fictional racism is likely a thing white people do, including me. In real life, I try to learn about intersectionality and oppose racism when I notice it. I wonder how much I'm actually picking up on, though, and whether I'm doing any good.

    ReplyDelete
  62. [Dear Cap'n Snappy, I'm not going to publish your comment because it shows no indication that you read this post. This blog isn't the place to blame the racial landscape depicted in Avatar on Obama. ~macon]

    ReplyDelete
  63. Hrmph. The nominations for best picture from the Producer's Guild (one of the early Academy Award indicators) include Avatar, District 9, Precious, and Invictus. Dear heavens. It's like a roll call of WIWL.

    But, on the bright side, also Star Trek.

    IMDb article

    ReplyDelete

Please see the "commenting guidelines" before submitting a comment.

hit counter code