How ‘Avatar’ Critiques/Supports American Imperialism

Dominic Alessio and Kristen Meredith in their essay “Decolonizing James Cameron’s Pandora: Imperial History and Science Fiction” analyses James Cameron’s 2009 science fiction blockbuster Avatar as a critique to American imperialism. Their analysis is based on the socio-political contexts in which it was written, “namely the American-led invasion of Iraq during the presidency of George W. Bush (2000-2008).”

According to the writers both dialogue and the plot demonstrate that the movie is the critique to American imperialism. On one hand dialogues such as “fight terror with terror”, “shock and awe” and a “hearts and minds” shows how the movie it want to portray America. On the other hand, the plot of movie centers on the need to gain control of a valuable energy source (“unobtainium”) as opposed to oil. Thus, the movie criticizes foreign policy of America, primarily the so-called “war on terror” during the tenure of Bush.

The writers provide four evidences to demonstrate Avatar’s anti-imperial message in Avatar. First, the humans in Avatar are exclusively American. “The fact that Americans alone are seeking unobtainium on Pandora suggests that they have remained uniquely imperialistic among human populations.” Second, the RDA without trial imprisons Jake, the main protagonist, and his human aliens. It is parallel with America’s “war on terror.” Third, the movie links the RDA’s private army and the former operations of private military firm Blackwater in the Middle East from 2003 onwards. Both are mercenary troops comprised of ex-military personnel, and both kill noncombatant. Fourth, because of the destruction of Home tree the Navi survivors are forced to flee. Their compulsory removal resembles the Trail of Team that Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminole, and other indigenous people had to undertake when they were evicted from their homeland by US force in the 1930s because American settlers wanted this land and the gold beneath. Moreover, the RDA military base on Pandora is reminiscent of the Green zone established in Baghdad during the Iraq war.

In Conclusion, Alessio and Meredith, in “Decolonizing James Cameron’s Pandora: Imperial History and Science Fiction”, demonstrate that Cameron’s Avatar is a critique on American imperialism. The writers quote Michael Learner “Avatar is one of the first movie to tell the story of western colonial, imperial arrogance from the standpoint of its victims in a way that may affect the mass consciousness in the western world.” The writers conclude, “The way in which Pandora’s various Navi groups united to combat the RDA- human invasion is a lesion for success in any struggle against imperial aggression.”

How Avatar supports America’s image as an imperial power?

The writers, in “Decolonizing James Cameron’s Pandora: Imperial History and Science Fiction”, with the thorough analysis of Avatar, demonstrate that the movie supports America’s image as an imperial power. Even though, the movie criticizes the colonialism/imperialism, it remains a colonialist work as it fails to challenges the traditional-one dimensional representation of indigenous. In this sense, Avatar represents orientalist stereotypes: Jake Sully (the masculine traveler representing the West), penetrating Pandora (the feminine East).

The representation of the moon’s indigenous people “half-nude” shows imperialist mindset. According to writers, the movie portrays Navi as if they do not have intellectual abilities to integrate into an advanced and technologically superior human society. Similarly, the representation of periphery of empire as a world lost to the imperial power itself is an idealized version of the imperial culture prior to imperialism.

The way Cameron depicts the culture of the Navi is influenced by the imperial fantasy of the discovery and conquest of the lost Eden. It portrays a world- Pandora- with the value and appearance of a utopia and reminds that this utopia is available to outsides, mainly Americans as shown in the movie. The writers further say that the movie serve as an historical makers for Bush’s muscular and militarist administration by linking imperial ambitions to US military action in the Middle East. In this way, they conclude that Avatar supports and reinforce America’s image as the imperial power.

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