Yue Begay {image via the Indigenous Pride LA website}

Avatar: the Way of Water is one of the biggest and most anticipated films in years. Why are some people calling for a boycott, and who are they?

Some, not all, Native and Indigenous people accuse Avatar: Way of Water (2022) and the original Avatar (2009) of cultural appropriation and the use of Hollywood’s popular “white savior complex.” Any one who saw the original Avatar and knows the least bit of North American history, would have been reminded of the many times First Nations peoples had their land stolen whenever valuable resources were discovered by white settlers, as when gold was found on lands traditionally claimed by the Nez Perce.

Navajo artist Yuè Begay tweeted,

“Join Natives & other Indigenous groups around the world in boycotting this horrible & racist film,” Yuè Begay, a Navajo artist and co-chair of Indigenous Pride Los Angeles who is behind the campaign’s resurgence, tweeted. “Our cultures were appropriated in a harmful manner to satisfy some [white flag emoji] man’s savior complex,” reads the comment,.

Yuè Begay is the co-chair of the Indigenous Pride Los Angeles, a group that promotes wellbeing of the Two Spirit, Indigiqueer, and Indigenous LGBTQPAI+ community. (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Pansexual, Asexual, Intersex, + Continuum)

Oscar-winning director James Cameron admitted in an interview with the Guardian that “the colonization and displacement of the Native Americans were a driving force in his writing for Avatar.”

As J.K. Rowling and James Gunn have learned, “the Internet is forever” and careless, casual comments will be remembered for years. Back in 2009, Cameron said “I felt like I was 130 years back in time watching what the Lakota Sioux might have been saying at a point when they were being pushed and they were being killed and they were being asked to displace and they were being given some form of compensation,” he said. “This was 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.”

Many found this comment offensive and an example of blaming-the-victim, especially Oglala Lakota poet and engineer Anpo Jensen and Dr. Johanna Brewer, Professor of Computer Science at Smith College, who tweeted they would not see the movie.

Walt Disney World has two rides based on Avatar, one soft and gentle, Na’vi River Journey, and one wild, Avatar: Flight of Passage, with over an hour’s wait in line. Would you also boycott those? You might want to skip Natu’li Canteen, the only eatery in any Disney Park where I’ve ever had a negative experience. But my tastebuds are not your., YMMV.

what’s your opinion? Will you go see Avatar: The Way of Water and its planned sequels ? Or will you respect the request for the boycott? Does cultural appropriation offend you? Or do you feel basing Avatar on how First Nations peoples were treated is not harmful? Would it encourage you to research actual Native American history? DC editor/writer Pol Levitz once pointed out at San Diego ComicCon that history isn’t copyrightable. Is it wrong for writers to be inspired by other people’s history?

There is no question that James Cameron practiced cultural appropriation. The question is whether you, personally, will it that affect your decision whether or not you choose to see Avatar: Way of Water and its planned sequels. For some people, a you-can’t-tell-me what-to-see-or-not -see attitude, the boycott encourage them to go see the movie. For some people, they will refuse to cross a picket line and will honor the boycott. For some people, the risk of the tripledemic and the price of movie tickets will keep them out of the theater. What’s your choice? Knowing many First Nations people find the movie offensive, will you avoid it or will you go see it anyway?

The Na’vi fighting the Terrans with their advanced technology and weaponry with archery reminded me of the Zulus with spears and oxhide shields fighting British troops with rifles. But as George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” J. Michael Straczynski pointed out on Babylon 5 through Susan Ivanova that many people don’t read Santayana anymore.


Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress ”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.