Native American campaign calls for boycott of ‘Avatar’ movie

By | December 20, 2022

If you haven’t seen “Avatar: The Way of Water” yet, a social media campaign led by Native Americans hopes it’ll stay that way.

After the premiere of the long-delayed “Avatar” sequel, a new campaign is calling on would-be viewers to boycott the sci-fi film, which has already grossed more than $300 million internationally.

“Join Natives & other Indigenous groups around the world in boycotting this horrible & racist film,” Asdzáá Tłʼéé honaaʼéí, a Navajo artist and co-chair of Indigenous Pride Los Angelesthe campaign’s founder, wrote in a tweet, which has been liked by more than 40,000 users. “Our cultures were appropriated in a harmful manner to satisfy some [white flag emoji] man’s savior complex.”

The campaign focuses heavily on resurfaced comments made by the film’s director, James Cameron, in 2010 about the Sioux nation, including the Lakota people, which the campaign calls “anti-indigenous rhetoric.”

in 2010, the Guardian wrote about Cameron’s efforts to oppose the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which eventually led to the displacement of indigenous people living in the Amazon. Inside the article, the Oscar-winning director said his time spent with the Amazon tribes led him to reflect on the history of Indigenous people in North America. Cameron credited Native American history as the “driving force” behind writing the script for the 2009 “Avatar” film.

“I felt like I was 130 years back in time watching what the Lakota Sioux might have been saying at a point when they were being pushed and they were being killed and they were being asked to displace and they were being given some form of compensation, ‘ Cameron told the Guardian.

“This was a driving force for me in the writing of ‘Avatar’ — I couldn’t help but think that if they [the Lakota Sioux] had had a time-window and they could see the future… and they could see their kids committing suicide at the highest suicide rates in the nation … because they were hopeless and they were a dead-end society — which is what is happening now — they would have fought a lot harder.”

Representatives for Cameron were not immediately available for comment Monday.

The original “Avatar” film focuses on a human solider, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who is sent by resource-hungry colonists from Earth to infiltrate the Na’vi people, but he eventually sympathizes with them and becomes a Na’vi himself . He fights off the colonizing forces from Earth, but the Na’vi are still displaced from their home.

“The Way of the Water” takes place more than a decade after the events of the first film and follows Sully family members after they fled their land-bound home for a new oceanic home, where their conflict with the invading Earthlings continues.

Cameron’s offending comments were resurfaced last week by Johnnie Jae, at Otoe-Missouria and Choctaw artist living in Los Angeles. The remarks, which were largely overlooked a decade ago, drew intense backlash on social media from some Native Americans who specifically took issue with the implication that Native people could have “fought a lot harder” against settler colonialism to avoid displacement and genocide.

“James Cameron apparently made Avatar to inspire all my dead ancestors to ‘fight harder,’” wrote Johanna Brewer, a computer science professor at Smith College. “Eff right off with that savior complex, bud.”

“Eww, way to victim blame & not reflect on your own positionally/ privilege,” wrote Lydia Jenningswho identifies as Wixarika and Yoeme. “Saw original avatar; was annoyed people celebrated the story while not reflecting on how many Indigenous Nations in the present are fighting to do so.”

Brett Chapman, a Native American civil rights attorney, called “Avatar” a “White savior story at its core” in a tweet decrying Cameron’s comments.

“I won’t be seeing the new one,” Chapman wrote. “It does nothing for Native Americans but sucks oxygen for itself at our expense.”

Autumn Asher BlackDeer of the Southern Cheyenne Nation and a social work professor at the University of Denver responded to the comments by compiling a list of movies by Indigenous filmmakers for those who “Don’t wanna watch the colonial glorifying blue people movie.”

The boycott campaign also zoomed in on Cameron’s decision to cast white actors as leads to play the Na’vi, an indigenous people in the film’s fictional Pandora, which Cameron previously said were based on indigenous cultures across the globe.

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