Avatar and Race

On arriving at one of the news sites that I frequent, a headline under “Entertainment” caught my eye. Having just seen the movie “Avatar”, I was surprised to read a headline posing a singular question; “Is Cameron’s Avatar Racist?” The tag accomplished its goal by catching my eye and provoking an intense emotional response. Perhaps the headline to this post did something similar for you. There are few methods in “journalism” that provoke a faster or more emotional response than charges of racism.

The rational middle has covered this topic before, and the position is the same; we are tired of both ends of the polarized debate, and eager to commit time and thought to those willing to have meaningful discussion. If it is an “ism”, then its definition changes with the person. Racism is used by various individuals to mean everything from cross-burning rednecks to white teachers who don’t realize that asking an African-American couple how their “boy” is doing can be offensive. Perspective is everything, and humans are very sensitive about issues of personal identity. All of us may want to be valued as individuals, yet none of us want to be treated differently from another.

From my perspective, Avatar was a story of a culture saving a lost soul. The main character was undervalued in his own culture because of his physical differences, but the alien culture perceived his real worth from the inside-out. In the end, as in nature, their redemption of him saved their culture. Some who saw the film from a different perspective, saw a white character saving a “primitive” race. The theme has been present in films throughout the decades, from “Dances With Wolves” to “The Last Samurai” and many others. An actress made the comment that it would be nice for a film to show that the “primitives” can save themselves.

Outside of the accusations and insults, and away from the counter charges and veiled insults, the notion is something that can be explored. Differences between cultures can lead to synergies for the whole society when they are discussed and learned from. As in politics, the application of a label can destroy a conversation before it happens. Outside of the obvious environmental themes of the movie, Avatar presents an opportunity to talk about culture and identity in a way that improves our lives.

The rational middle hopes we are all open to the conversation…