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The Jaguar Journal

The Jaguar Journal

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The Abatement of Avatar 2

Cameron misses an opportunity to create a real conversation around indigenous representation

Avatar: The Way of Water—the sequel to the popular yet controversial 2009 James Cameron film was released on December 16, 2022. The film was received with much enthusiasm, yet heightened controversy.

Avatar: the Way of Water is a controversial film for many reasons, chief among them is the “native representation”. The main plot follows Jake Sully attempting to defend Pandora once again from human invaders attempting to claim Pandora for themselves by exterminating the natives—mirroring European colonization of the Americas. At first, Jake Sully escaped the humans, and whilst doing that he left his people. He and his family find shelter within the Water Tribes of Pandora. Jake Sully is reluctantly welcomed into the tribe and he forces his children to learn and adopt the title’s namesake culture, the “Way of Water”. After a majority of the time is spent exploring this culture and the childrens struggles to adopt it we finally find the plot culminating when the humans locate Jake Sully and his family who fight alongside the water tribes of Pandora against the humans.

A majority of the runtime for The Way of Water is devoted to exploring the culture of the natives of Pandora. The “Way of Water” presented to us a patched together caricature of many different groups’ cultures. It is a misrepresentation of Maori, Samoan, Polynesian, and other cultures from which James Cameron takes and pieces together a misrepresentation of these cultures and does not give these cultures the respect they deserve. This science fiction monstrosity which was unleashed from the mind of James Cameron, a white Canadian man, manages to have representation for native groups which is on par if not in some cases worse than what we find within the Western genre of movies.

Good indigenous representation in science fiction is not that difficult to have, just look at the recently released Black Panther: Wakanda Forever with Ku’uk’ulkan and his sea dwelling people. They are a secretive technologically advanced society who live in the ocean and make it a large part of their culture and lives. They are directly based upon and said to be of Mayan descent and for the brief moments where their culture and history are explored it is done so respectfully and accurately. They accurately pay respect to the gods and beliefs of the Mayan people. Their representation of the god Chaac, the Mayan god of water is accurate and respectful, not embellishing details unnecessarily or creating a caricature of the culture. The parts of the representation that are science fiction does not affect the culture itself. More to this their culture is not portrayed to be without flaw rather their leader is extremely aggressive and his people just as if not more so. This is the second major problem which Avatar: The Way of Water suffers from, it’s “native culture” is portrayed to be the correct way to live and be without flaw. The natives of Pandora are shown to live in perfect harmony with their planet and everything about that way of life and culture is perfect and has no negative effects on their planet or their environment. James Cameron idolizes native cultures to an unhealthy degree, no way of life we can currently pursue or has been pursued in the past has been perfect or without effect on the world. Even the natives who are often regarded as being “one with nature” and “respectful of mother earth” are still human and still have destructive properties about them. Native groups could overwork the environment, or over fish, or over hunt, or destroy large swathes of woodlands. James Cameron places his cobbled together, bastardized, hodgepodge of what he thinks native culture is and points to it as the peak of what civilization should be.

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Cuauhtemoc "Temo" Yanez A&E Editor Uses reviews to validate her interests.
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