Indigenous Activists Call to #BoycottAvatar After Controversial James Cameron Comments Resurface

Are the aliens based on real Native tribes?
By Amelia Merrill
Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images for Absolut Elyx

Avatar: The Way of Water, the sequel to the iconic 2009 sci-fi film, is making waves in the movie industry: James Cameron’s epic enjoyed a $435 million opening weekend worldwide and is sitting at 78% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Though Cameron has already promised three more Avatar tales (one has already wrapped filming), not all viewers are excited at the prospect. Indigenous activists have taken to Twitter to share how the franchise disrespects Native cultures.

“Na’vi” and “Boycott Avatar” have both trended on Twitter, the former referring to one of the film’s alien tribes. Native American activists have drawn particular attention to Cameron’s 2010 Guardian interview about researching the Lakota people for Avatar. The Lakota are a branch of Sioux people who mainly live on reservations in North and South Dakota.

While visiting representatives of the Xingu people in Brazil in 2010, Cameron campaigned against the construction of a dam on their lands. Cameron said the experience reminded him of learning about the Lakota Sioux people, who were “a driving force for me in the writing of Avatar.”

“I couldn’t help but think that if they [the Lakota Sioux] had had a time-window and they could see the future […] and they could see their kids committing suicide at the highest suicide rates in the nation […] because they were hopeless and they were a dead-end society — which is what is happening now — they would have fought a lot harder.”

Indigenous activists have condemned Cameron’s statement that the Lakota should have “fought harder” against U.S. government forces—especially because the U.S. reneged on official treaties with the Sioux peoples.

Twitter users also objected to Cameron’s characterization of the Lakota as “dead-end society.” There are about 115,000 Lakota people living today, according to reservation censuses.

In addition to Cameron’s comments, activists say, the Avatar films rely on the white savior narrative and depict the Na’vi as an amalgamation of different Native cultures. Many of the actors who play Na’vi characters, like Kate Winslet and Sigourney Weaver, are white.

Yuè Begay, the co-chair of Indigenous Pride LA, has called for an official boycott of the movie.

Native creatives in Hollywood are also pushing back against the film’s depiction of Native cultures.

Jana Schmieding, a Lakota actor, called out the entertainment industry for producing work about Native people but not promoting work by Native people.

Schmieding wrote for and starred in Peacock’s Rutherford Falls, a comedy about a community near a fictional Native reservation. Peacock canceled the show this year.