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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease 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.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Paquito D'Rivera, who has won 12 Grammys, is celebrated both for his artistry in Latin jazz and his achievements as a classical composer. D'Rivera's latest project, “Jazz Meets the Classics,” was released this month. He joins us on the latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."