On Avatar

Dec. 31st, 2009 05:12 pm
a_d_medievalist: a gift for my birthday from gillo.  Please don't use it! (Default)
I saw Avatar last night. There's a lot to say about it. First, let me get the whole race thing out of the way. Not because it's unimportant -- it's not, and the critics are right and correct in their complaints. It is sort of Dances With Wolves or any other film where the white folks are evil colonialists and the blue folks are going to teach them something. And it is told through the POV of the Earth person, rather than the people who adopt him. And yeah, he saves them all. Even more importantly, though, is that this particular trope is included mindlessly in the service of another one, that of technology and modern values against pastoralism and valuing the natural world. I think that this is really the kernel of all the race issues people have noticed, but haven't mentioned. For me the real problem is that, in setting up the dichotomy of 'people in touch with nature' vs. 'people who have destroyed their world through greed and technology,' Cameron et al. have clearly not considered that race and questions of race will exist in the minds of the audience. TO me, that's something worse.


I'm not sure how I feel about this film, because there's a lot more to it, or maybe I'm just wanting to read more into it. At any rate, I'm going to go through it point by point, so if you don't want to read about the film, stop here. Read more... )
a_d_medievalist: a gift for my birthday from gillo.  Please don't use it! (Default)
X-posted from Blogenspiel (which is now easier to read):

International Blog Against Racism Week

Well, it's International Blog Against Racism Week, and I only found out on Wednesday. So I don't have a particularly long or well-thought out post and am instead linking to some things that maybe you would like to see.

The first are from a site called Racebending. The site grew in reaction to the casting for a movie version of Nickelodeon's show, Avatar: the Last Airbender. The world of the show is clearly built with East Asian and Inuit cultural elements. Where the problem is ... well, look at the characters from the show:

Look at the casting:

The film is M. Night Shyamalan's latest attempt at a blockbuster, and the trailer looks pretty damned cool. I certainly thought it looked like I might want to see it, but not now. In fact, I'm going to be boycotting it, and encouraging my friends to do likewise.

It's not the first time this has happened, and it seems to happen a lot with sf/fantasy -- does Hollywood think that, because those genres are still somewhat marginalized, the fans are too few to notice and be annoyed?

If you remember, this sort of thing also happened with the adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea. Le Guin was not pleased with the result. It also regularly happens on bookcovers, where the main characters are depicted as white, even when the text makes it clear that they aren't.

Racebending also points to the video below. It's almost 10 minutes long, but worth watching.

It's interesting that this week is also seeing the winding-down of the furore following the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his own home. There's been a lot of coverage of that on the web, on TV, and pretty much everywhere. HNN has had a lot of coverage, including this column on President Obama's tendency to not confront issues of race very directly. My own opinion is that the arrest was probably fine within the letter of the law, but the circumstances were probably loaded with a lot of racial baggage. Would Gates have been as upset had he not been a black man who has achieved a pretty notable position in the scholarly, and even talking-head, community -- and yet every day has to deal with a society where there are still many forms of institutional racism, and knows very well that people of color are frequently treated differently by the legal system and its representatives than whites? Would Sgt. Crowley have reacted as he did had Gates been white? or even (and my own totally unfounded guess is that this might have had something to do with it) had Crowley not been someone who was supposed to be especially well-versed in issues of racism, and was perhaps even more upset by Gates' alleged abusive language because he thought of himself as an ally?

I am not sure. What I am sure of is that race is still a very real issue in most of the societies in which I and my readers live. There's a poll on Facebook at the moment asking whether Michael Vick should be allowed to return to a career in the NFL after his conviction for participating in a dog-fighting ring. I do sometimes wonder if professional athletes would be held to higher standards if the demographics of professional sports in the US had not changed so dramatically over the last 30 or so years. Along with our, "anyone can make it if they just work hard enough," mythos, we have also developed one where sports save the young black men from a sure future of life in the inner-city, probably dealing drugs, fathering welfare babies, and otherwise caught, inevitably, in a vicious cycle of crime and punishment. So if professional athletes act like criminals, well, what do we expect? There's a subtext of "we know that's what they are" in a lot of the media coverage of the lives of professional athletes.

Um ... no. There are lots of reasons why people commit crimes, but I'm pretty damned sure that race is not a cause, although there are correlations between some of the effects of institutionalized racism, e.g., poverty, poorer education and fewer opportunities for better education, surroundings where people are more exposed to crime, disproportionate incarceration of juvenile offenders, etc., and whether or not a person becomes a criminal.

I don't really have much else to say on the matter. I just thought I should say something, because, well, it's something we should be aware of, and now's a good time to remember that.

Thanks to [personal profile] swisstone for one of the links and to [personal profile] sartorias for originally pointing me to the Avatar stuff.


a_d_medievalist: a gift for my birthday from gillo.  Please don't use it! (Default)

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