While the long-awaited, delayed Avatar sequel 'Avatar: The Way of Water' has grossed $300 million internationally since being released Dec 18, 2022, there are Native American groups taking to social media to call for a boycott of the new release.
“Join Natives & other Indigenous groups around the world in boycotting this horrible & racist film,” Yuè Begay, a Navajo artist and co-chair of Indigenous Pride Los Angeles who is behind the campaign’s resurgence, wrote in a tweet that 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.”
This campaign to boycott the film first started in 2009 when the first Avatar was released and has now found a resurgence in the media. It would seem the motivation lies in past comments made by the film's director James Cameron.
In 2010, Cameron was featured in The Guardian, discussing the efforts to oppose Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which eventually led to the displacement of Indigenous people living in the Amazon. The Oscar-winning director said his time spent with the Amazon tribes led to reflecting on the history of Indigenous people in North America. Cameron credited Native American history as the “driving force” behind writing the script for the original “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.”
Some of the reactions from the Native American community:
“Eww, way to victim blame & not reflect on your own positionally/ privilege,” wrote Lydia Jennings, of the Wixárika and Yoeme people. “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 suck oxygen for itself at our expense.”
Autumn Asher BlackDeer, a social work professor at the University of Denver who is of the Southern Cheyenne Nation, 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 emphaszied 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 has said were based on Indigenous cultures.
The boycott campaign is now calling such creative decisions “blueface,” in the tradition of the racist performance practices of “redface, blackface, yellowface.”
“We should’ve been the ones whose faces and voices appeared onto the screen,” Begay wrote in an open letter to Cameron. “We are the experts in portraying our hurt, suffering, and more importantly, our resilience.”