Maori Academic says Avatar (the Movie) shows West has less hang up about Indigenous Peoples

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Hollywood blockbuster Avatar repeats “negative stereotypes” about indigenous people, a Maori academic says. The science-fiction film, which has grossed $661 million worldwide, shows the impact of colonist mining crews from Earth on the indigenous people of the jungle planet Pandora.

The head of the School of Maori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury, Rawiri Taonui, said Avatar addressed the impact of colonisation on indigenous people in an entertaining way, but relied on stereotypes.

“It was a great movie and had some progressive themes, but did it in a way that still repeated some stereotypes,” he said.

Taonui said the “rhythmic body swaying” of the indigenous people during a ceremony only appeared in “B-grade movies” and “just doesn’t happen in any indigenous population”.

He said the male members of the blue-skinned Na’avi population were stereotypical depictions of indigenous people. “The indigenous men were not very good when it came to sorting out the problems. They just grunted. That contradicts history,” he said.

“Indigenous people were overwhelmed by colonists, but they resisted against overwhelming odds. “They all came up with strategies to try and overcome their situations.”

He pointed to indigenous leaders like Sitting Bull in the United States and Rewi Manga Maniapoto in New Zealand. “The white guys and the neo-liberals save the people rather than the indigenous people saving themselves.” He also thought it was surprising the lead human took only a few months to learn the ways of the Na’avi. “It took him three months to learn all there was to learn about his society. There is an assumption that indigenous beliefs are simplistic and it doesn’t take long to master them.”

However, he said the film acknowledged the negative impact of colonisation on indigenous culture. “The fact that a movie like that has come out shows the Western world has less hang-ups about indigenous people. There is recognition that colonisation has a negative impact on indigenous people from a historical point of view,” he said.

The audience at his screening broke into spontaneous applause at the end of the film. “It made people think without pointing the finger too much. I think that is why people clapped, because it got across really strong messages without moral lecturing.”

1 COMMENT

  1. kia ora, Where Avatar is a 'blockbuster' movie that attempts to highlight in some way that Indigneous Peoples have been oppressed by colonial forces it remains yet another contemporary 'Tarzan' story, not unlike movies like 'Dances with wolves', 'The Piano' and many many other films the old story line remains the same – white man enters Indigenous community, white man 'sees' oppression, white man wants to become 'Native' and does all he can to do that …. sound familiar. So, I highly doubt that this movie is an indication of the west having "less hang-ups" about Indigenous Peoples. Add to this the exploitation of Indigenous symbolism, including moko, and the 'new age' approach to what is mean to be 'cultural rituals' . and we are left with a movie that whilst there may have been an attempt to highlight colonial exploitation, it achieved very little in real terms.

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