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Avatar's racist subtext is in line with Indian social mores
Would Avatar's message of the weak triumphing over the strong have carried much more conviction, if the natives' fight had been led by one of their own?
HOLLYWOOD FLICK Avatar has not only taken filmmaking to another level, but has also emerged as the second highest grosser of all-time in Hollywood history, second only to Titanic, interestingly by the same filmmaker, James Cameroon.
The 3D sci-fi movie narrates the epic battle between the mystic and nature-loving Na'vi, inhabitants of the planet Pandora, and the marauding greedy humans.
However, the Na'vi's fight back is led by a human, a paralyzed Marine, Jake Sully, in his 'avatar' as a Na'vi. Though the theme relies on the time-tested formula of good vs. evil and the weak against the strong, the fact that the saviour of the Na'vi in the movie happens to be a white man (as opposed to the blue-skinned, 9-foot-tall, long-tailed, bow-and-arrow wielding native-aliens) has made a section of movie-goers accuse the film of having a racist subtext.
These critics see the white hero saving the primitive tribe theme as reinforcing the white Messiah fable, and racial stereotypes, i.e., the white as superior to the natives.
While this criticism may sound far-fetched, it does contain parallels to the caste situation in India.
Though casteism, as practiced in India, is different from racism, they both involve discrimination against fellow human beings, and hence comparing them could give new insights.
In India, the term 'dalits' refers to those so-called low castes who have traditionally been discriminated against. Though the discrimination against people belonging to these castes has ceased to a large extent, with the dalits emerging as a significant political force in modern India, discrimination against dalits still continues in certain pockets of the country.
Before the dalit awakening, the fight for equal rights for these less privileged sections of the society was led largely by upper caste leaders like Gandhi.
But once the dalits found their voices and emerged as a cohesive political force, one of the first things they did was to disown the upper caste leaders who led 'their' (Dalit's) fight.
Interestingly, Gandhi had coined a term "Harijan" (i.e., children of God) to refer to the people belonging to the low castes. Disowning this term as insulting, the revolutionaries of the low castes adopted the umbrella term "Dalits" to refer to themselves.
In other words, the Messiah of the dalits is no longer from upper castes, but one from among themselves.
Read in this context, there is nothing wrong in the view that it would have been better if the Na'vi's fight against the exploitive humans in the movie had been led by one of their own. In fact, it would have better served to underscore the historical metaphor of the movie, i.e., natives vs. white settlers.
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