Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Intentions of a Message of Tolerance, But Your Privilege Is Still Showing

I'm finally inspired to get writing again, so it's a busy day for posts.

One of hubby's co-workers posted a blog arguing that anyone who sees racism in Avatar is just looking for it.  This led to a flurry of IMs between us discussing the issue.  Here are some of my thoughts about the movie.

I think it’s hard for a filmmaker to show homage to an indigenous culture without it feeling presumptuously othering when the culture is seen and presented through the eyes of the foreigner, rather than the Na’vi being able to define themselves. But much of this potential problem is mitigated by the use of a Na’vi character teaching what’s-his-name about the culture.  There are other questions you could ask to get at the nature of why people see racism here.  Why is it the foreigner who leads the battle, rather than one of the Navi leaders/warriors? That's the big one.

Though the film intends to criticize our history of imperialism and colonialization, it still reveals a need common in the narratives of white American storytellers for the white guy who ‘gets it’ to be forgiven and then accepted by the minority group (and then lead them??!). This need comes from a place of privilege – the white guy still needs to be the center of the story, the star. He thinks EVERY story is about him.

And, yet I do understand that the average white American is a huge part of the target audience. AND, if you want those white Americans to feel the implications of our treatment of other cultures, then it makes sense to make the white Marine (really, our current real-life equivilent of a hero) the character through which we see the world of the movie. AND, if THIS guy can have a change of heart and learn to respect other cultures, then we have an example through which we might see the potential of our whole country learning to be more respectful.

So, I think there is a strong argument against the INTENTIONS of the filmmaker being racist. And even an argument that there are good justifications for his choices. But I also understand why some people ask why everytime there is a movie about another culture (and in this case it’s a fictional culture, but a clear stand in for some other real world peoples), the story is always told from the perspective of the white character, and the members of the other culture are just that: the others.

No comments:

Post a Comment