Racism on Pandora?

There’s no doubt that James Cameron is a master of his craft and a visionary genius. Instead of attending film school he taught himself how to direct and photograph movies. “I didn’t study film. I never took classes on film aesthetics and so on, so I never saw the evolution of action direction from [John] Ford through Peckinpah, or whatever the evolutionary spectrum would be. For me, it was just what I happened to see that I liked. And I have to tell you, I probably learned more from Roger Corman car-chase films than I did from the auteurs of action,” Cameron once said in an interview with the LA Times. Cameron actually avoided film school and echoes these sentiments to wanna-be directors“Film school screws you up. It takes years to recover. I think the basic requirement of directing is being able to anticipate what an audience wants to see. And having created something, what they want to see next. And the only way that you can do that is to have been an audience,” Cameron continued, “If, at the age of 15, you immediately start becoming a filmmaker, you’ve lost that curative period where you’re just a blank slate and you’re reacting.” Over the years many aspiring filmmakers have asked Cameron how to become a director. His answer, “Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy. No matter whether your friends and your sisters star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director. Everything after that you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee.” Personally I always admired Cameron’s advice and after a year of film school not agreeing with me, I co-wrote and produced a film with the help of friends and family. In this reviewer’s opinion film school presents a fascinating world to learn the rich history of the medium and a chance to understand the technical aspects of movie making, but I don’t believe it necessarily provides students the innate skills too direct.  Perhaps future directors should engage in sociology or psychology courses to deal with eccentric actors and colorful studio executives.

Son of engineer Philip Cameron and nurse Shirley Lowe, Cameron was the first of five children to be born in Ontario. As a teenager he became intrigued with the world of cinema, having attended the 2001 screening: A space odyssey by Stanley Kubrick.  In 1971, the Camerons moved to Orange County, California, for work reasons.

At California State University he studied Physics but soon abandoned the career to immerse himself in the world of film.  Early on, he combined his work as a mechanic and his love of screenwriter. He spent the nights writing his scripts and drawing the storyboards of his first shorts, which he began recording in the late 1970s with Randall Frakes. His first film project was the science fiction short film Xenogenesis (1978), co-produced with Frakes. This short of 12 minutes tells the story of a young couple traveling through space in search of a habitable planet in which to begin the cycle of life.


Once Cameron directed his first short in the late 1970s, he started working in the Hollywood film industry as a special effects technician for Roger Cormans company, New World Pictures. He worked in the art direction department of the fiction film, The Magnificent 7 of Space (1980) by Jimmy T. Murakami and a year later he was th director of  production on the movie The Galaxy of Terror (1981) by Bruce D. Clark. That same year he debuted as a director with the horror film, Piranha 2: The spawning (1981), the sequel to Joe Dantes film, Piranha (1978). This horror movie tells the story of a strange Caribbean island in which a series of piranha attacks occur, which, to the surprise of the fishermen, have wings.

From there he went on to direct the Terminator films, True Lies and Titanic.  He is responsible for some of the greatest and highest grossing movies in the history of motion pictures according to the Oscars and the box office.


Recently I had the opportunity to see his sequel to Avatar. In fact, it took Cameron thirteen years to produce the sequel after the box office success of the first film which I think is the highest grossing movie of all time even with inflation. Apparently the technology to create the sequel simply didn’t exist, which is why it took over a decade to produce. Rumour has it, he’s already shot Avatar 3 and written parts four and five.

One can’t argue that the effects-laden sequel looked stunning.  It was an absolute treat for the senses.  Even with my daughter munching on tacos and Swedish berries throughout the film, it was a major visual achievement but unfortunately during most of the flick it felt like I was viewing a video game with high end graphics. I can only watch my son play Fortnite for so long before I’m playing with his hamster Speedy 2.

The truth is I wasn’t crazy about Cameron’s first Avatar adventure but I’m also the same reviewer who almost almost walked out of the Academy Award winning epic Titanic.  Actually, the entire third act of Avatar 2 reminded me of Titanic in many ways – including my loud snoring. To be fair I’m attached to a sleep machine at home, so people can’t hear my elephant like breathing. Luckily the kids sitting behind me during Titanic woke me up by throwing popcorn on me allowing me the opportunity to watch the boat sink.

In many ways Cameron’sAvatar 2 is the the best nature documentary to ever play on the big screen.  I bet folks who watch National Geographic have seen it several times already. Before watching the film you may want to view the original film on Disney + to refresh your memory.


The first movie showed former marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) arriving on the lush green planet of Pandora to be plugged into a giant blue alien body (or avatar) that could walk among the giant blue aliens who live there. Instead of helping his human comrades strip-mine Pandora, he falls for the Na’vi and their oneness with the planet’s beauty. More specifically, he falls in love with tribal princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Fast-forward to the sequel, and the now married couple lead guerrilla raids against the greedy human capitalists, while raising a family of young Na’vi children and teenagers.

In the sequel the humans return to Pandora and this time they aren’t just interested in mining for resources. Earth isn’t as hospitable to live in as it once was and humanity has decided it needs a new home which happens to be Pandora.  Early on the earthlings attacking the citizens of the Pandora, (specifically Sully) which forces him and his family to escape their home and move to a city near the water, which they can expect to keep themselves safe for at least half the film’s running time.

Sully’s plans unfortunately don’t pan out as the evil humans ultimately find his family after his teenage children have been bullied for being half-breed (yes, they are part human and part Na’vi.) The evil doers are clearly after Sully and his family and won’t ever stop pursuing them until at least three more sequels have grossed a billion dollars each.

The last hour plays out with many of the same scenes audiences have already witnessed in Titanic but the emotional connection to these computer generated images is nowhere near the same as most viewers felt towards Jack and Rose sharing a wooden plank for survival on the waves of the frozen Atlantic with thousands dying around them while the boat twists and turns in a ball of fire lighting up the ocean.


Cameron is an amazingly talented filmmaker but it seems like he’s going to spend the rest of his life continuing to create these Avatar films.  Whether you like them or not, they’re certainly a spectacle which has led to debate on social media about the the films having a racist agenda. The Avatar 2 racism allegations stem from Cameron’s comments in 2010, following the release of the first movie. The director had been protesting the building of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon, which threatened the Brazilian Xingu people’s way of life.

Speaking to The Guardian, he said “a real-life Avatar confrontation is in progress”, explaining: “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. 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.”  Yuè Begay, a Navajo artist and co-chair of Indigenous Pride Los Angeles, a key group in the rallying against Avatar 2, slammed the movie as “anti-Indigenous” in a tweet. “Do NOT watch Avatar: The Way of Water,” she wrote. “Join Natives & other Indigenous groups around the world in boycotting this horrible & racist film. Our cultures were appropriated in a harmful manner to satisfy some [white] man’s savior complex. No more Blueface! Lakota people are powerful!”   Her tweet – which has racked up nearly 15,000 retweets, along with thousands of likes on Instagram and Twitter respectively – she accuses James Cameron of appropriating Native American aesthetics for the Na’vi while casting “non-Indigenous folks” in the roles. “This is a form of racist caricature known as Blueface,” she added. “It is a combination of Redface, Blackface, Yellowface, and other racist tools creators use to justify not centering or validating the experiences, voices, and bodies of Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized People of Color.”

In the big picture, Cameron’s plot about earth becoming unliveable has been explored in many recent films like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and even Pixar’s animated story Lightyear. Even the show Battlestar Galactica works on a similar premise. In many ways Cameron is probably correct if humans sought out to live on a new planet, there’s probably a significant chance we’d try to wipe out the ruling species. The reverse scenario has also been illustrated a myriad of times in movies such as Superman 2, the series “V”, Terminator, Pixels, and countless others.

In this reviewer’s opinion Cameron needs to stop his obsessiveness with radical technology and return to focusing on what matters most in a film, good storytelling. In my mind effects should only enhance your plot, not be your plot.

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