A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

Avatar Foreign Policy

SPOILER ALERT: Today I went to see the new Avatar movie in 3-D. To those who say the true star of the film is Pandora, the planet, and the mise-en–scĂ©ne Cameron created, I say right on. The bio-luminescence and gargantuan interconnected banyan and willow forest of fantasy foliage are truly awesome. While I liked the physical connection of living fibers as representations of the idea that all life forms are a part of one universal energy, I found the element overused, as if audiences wouldn’t buy the idea without a physical representation. The story, an outer space Dances with Wolves set in an alien Ferngully, leaves much to be desired. In a nutshell: (1) white man learns native ways for white exploitation, (2) white man betrays other white men to help natives (the Na’vi), (3) natives feel betrayed by white man when other white men attack, (4) white man easily manages feat few natives have managed in order to re-earn their trust, (5) white man leads natives to victory and joins native life for good. When one of the Na’vi says, “We have tried to teach sky people. It is hard to fill a cup that is already full,” the sentiment certainly rings true not just throughout history, but ironically in this movie, and not in the way Cameron intends. By pivoting the plot around a white man-cum-savior who quickly learns and takes advantage (from reporting on the sacred structural design of their home base to using Na’vi prayer to try to save his scientist friend after the deaths of so many Na’vi), and is ultimately able to rally all natives on Pandora to fight against the white men and win their collective freedom from commercial mining exploitation (insert obvious Middle East oil reference here), the Na’vi and other native peoples may as well be another herd of hammerhead rhinos, rather than humanoids. It seems Cameron is saying a problem created by white people requires a white person to solve—but not just any white person, a “thoughtful” one who sees the value of another culture to the extreme extent of ditching his own in favor of saving it.

Could this be more black or white? Where is the gray area for people who try to be open to other cultures, to the point of, oh, let’s say, moving to India to, perhaps idealistically, help be a force of positive social change by using their Western knowledge and not-yet-full cup to further a project of local design, scope and impact? People committed to making a positive impact while recognizing as much as they try to learn from locals, they cannot possibly solve local problems, especially conflicts? And that local issues are best solved by home grown solutions by those who are really in it, and outsiders’ best help is imparting their knowledge and experience as and when locals ask for it? Instead we have another perfectly imperfect white man who first ruins and then (if not saves) salvages native life. I hope nothing I work on makes me later think I should’ve kept my hands (or more likely in my case, my research, discussions, endless over-thinking and mad-typing fingers) out of it altogether. Let’s stop this stereotype. Isn’t electing Obama supposed to be a sign that we Americans are at least ostensibly trying to stop the mistaken-American-turned-hero method of foreign policy? Isn’t that why he got the (albeit a bit ridiculous) Peace Prize?

I think the greatest way to help is to empower people to help them develop ways to solve their own problems (hence mediation over judgment), and be available to listen and offer one’s own knowledge and experience when and how others ask for it. In any case, I try to live by that. Maybe someday Hollywood will agree. Until then, Avatar is entertaining, and my advice is to get lost in the scenery and not the story.

Posted byValerie at 9:09 PM  


Anonymous said... December 27, 2009 at 7:00 AM  
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