Recently I read this post about why white people make movies like Avatar. I found this amusing because I was wondering the exact same things while I was watching. The actress who plays Neytiri is black. The actor who plays her father is Native American, and the actor who plays her love interest is also black. The main character is white. I’m sure Cameron didn’t overlook these details. I loved Avatar. But really, why couldn’t the Na’vi people be played by white actors?
I think Annalee Newitz hit it on the money – it’s the white fantasy of being “the other.” And while I was watching it, I was thinking about District 9 as well (not just for special effect comparisons). He also makes a great choice not to have main character Wikus change back to human. He is stuck as the other and cannot return to his white, human body like Jake in Avatar.
Blomkamp seems to make the realities of being the other as tangible as possible. Not that I know much about South Africa, but I can believe that the alien slum conditions and politics are similar to what’s actually there. (In fact, I think Blomkamp filmed in an existing slum in Johannesburg – does anyone know?) Avatar places the story in a fantasy world that clearly reflects our own, which may be considered a strength. I kept hearing people compare the story to Pocahantas, and I also considered The Last Samurai and Dances With Wolves as Newitz does in her post. Ultimately, it seems to be about the white man’s desire to experience being the other, but still holding onto white opportunities and benefits.
All in all, I loved Avatar and want to see it again and again. It’s a decent story. These seemingly redundant story lines exist because they work. You could ask the same question to people who constantly re-make, re-place, and draw from Romeo & Juliet. How many fucking love tragedies have roots in that play? People use it because it’s timeless, which is why I believe Avatar has staying power. I don’t know if it’ll be as epic on TV at home though. Maybe it should be in theatres forever…
Of course, my next question is: when will the main character of a film like this be a woman?