News / Arts & Entertainment

Native Peoples See Themselves in 'Avatar'

Special screening coincides with UN meeting on indigenous issues

'Avatar' director James Cameron with some of the indigenous people who attended a recent screening of the film.
'Avatar' director James Cameron with some of the indigenous people who attended a recent screening of the film.

Multimedia

Audio
Adam Phillips

An Australian aboriginal instrument called a "didgeridoo" began a special screening of "Avatar" for indigenous leaders from around the world. The event coincided with the 9th Session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.

James Cameron's Hollywood blockbuster is a potent mix of futuristic science fiction, romance, action-adventure and dazzling special effects that already has earned more $2 billion worldwide.

The film's message has touched an especially deep chord among many indigenous peoples.

Raising awareness

Before the screening, the leaders praised director Cameron for the artful way "Avatar" tells their message to the world. Cameron explained the link between this audience and the movie.

"It's raised awareness of the issues. Of course, the film is a fantasy," says Cameron. "It doesn't really educate. It creates a kind of emotional framework or context for a dialogue, which follows from the film."

The story centers on a marine who agrees to gain the trust of the Na'vi people on a distant planet, while gathering intelligence about them for an invading force from Earth. They want the information to get the Na'vi to relinquish the precious resources on their planet, Pandora.

Director James Cameron says 'Avatar' was meant to be a wake-up call to the civilized world.
Director James Cameron says 'Avatar' was meant to be a wake-up call to the civilized world.

Hitting a nerve

The invasion of Pandora resonated with Native American Willy Littlechild of the Treaty Six Territories in Northern Canada.

"North of us is what they call 'the heavy tar sands,' where machines, huge, huge machines come in to the area just like in the movie," Littlechild. "So that to me had a tremendous impact to me because of the serious violation of the territories of Mother Earth."

The marine in "Avatar" falls in love with a Na'vi princess and is won over by her people's ethos of harmony with nature. He switches sides and leads the Na'vi to victory.

Mixed reaction

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, an activist with the Kankanaey Igorot people of the Philippines, who have struggled for decades to protect their ancestral lands from logging and mining interests, had a mixed reaction to the film.

"I thought the movie was really very good. It really represents the reality that many indigenous peoples face, and, of course, the reality of how indigenous peoples relate with nature," says Pauli-Corpuz. "What I didn't like was the white man being the messiah.  But he [Cameron] explained that because he is a white man, he is the one making the film, he would like to show it as a way for the white man to really make the amends for what they have done to indigenous peoples."

VOA Reporter Adam Phillips interviews director James Cameron.
VOA Reporter Adam Phillips interviews director James Cameron.

But Carmen Ramirez Boscan of the Wayuu People of Colombia remains mistrustful. She says their desert land continues to be devastated by coal developers with the government's cooperation.

"They are saying we are doing good things, that it's developing our territories when they are just raping our Mother Earth," she says. "You are eating coal all the time. You are breathing coal all the time. But it's not going to change. They don't care about us. They only care about money."

Wake-up call

Director James Cameron says "Avatar" is meant to be an emotional film, not a political one.  He says he's not trying to reconcile the competing claims between corporations, governments, the balance of nature and the rights of indigenous people to live in their traditional lands undisturbed.  

Still, he will say that he does believe the government colludes with big industry and big financial interests to deal with these things in a way where the lack of public interest works in their favor.  

"So, when these battles come along, and they are happening every day all over the world, the more of a media spotlight we can shine on it, the more we can challenge people of conscience, of honor to think about it and talk about it and do something about it," says Cameron. "The movie was meant to be a wake-up call. My fantasy is I grab the civilized world by the lapel and shake and say, 'Wake up!  We've got to deal with this situation. There is urgency here.'"

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”