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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."