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.
Do NOT watch Avatar: The Way of Water
Join Natives & other Indigenous groups around the world in boycotting this horrible & racist film. Our cultures were appropriated in a harmful manner to satisfy some 🏳 man's savior complex.
No more Blueface!
Lakota people are powerful! pic.twitter.com/NmHVU565u3
— 🌽Asdzáá Tłʼéé honaaʼéí🌽BA, CertAIS🌽(She/Her)🌽 (@asdza_tlehonaei) December 18, 2022
“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.”
Natives been telling ya'll James Cameron's Avatar is racist and creepy as hell. The way he talks about the Lakota in this article is absolutely horrible.https://t.co/qnDWEtrP81
— Johnnie Jae aka The Burnt Ball of Fury (@johnniejae) December 16, 2022
“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.
This is so deeply offensive: @JimCameron saying the Lakota should have “fought a lot harder” against forced removal & imperialism, calling Indigenous peoples “hopeless, “a dead-end society.” I am not hopeless (I hope for an apology!). Native people are still here, still brilliant pic.twitter.com/c5KUfGeG3M
— Chiara Sottile (@CASottile) December 17, 2022
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.
Native creatives in Hollywood are also pushing back against the film’s depiction of Native cultures.
I do unfortunately need to loudly bitch AGAIN about the paradox that Native ppl in the entertainment industry face *to this day* compared to “well-meaning” white EPs. Despite producing LAUDED Native-led content in 2021-22, we continue to see whites capitalizing on our stories!
— jana (@janaunplgd) December 19, 2022
Jana Schmieding, a Lakota actor, called out the entertainment industry for producing work about Native people but not promoting work by Native people.
As if the blue face and cg costuming isn’t offensive enough. James Cameron is just another white man who wants to be Indigenous and thinks he can do it better than us. Get in line. https://t.co/iytYBQ01Ma
— jana (@janaunplgd) December 17, 2022
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.