Whether Avatar is racist is a matter for debate. Regardless of where you come down on that question, it’s undeniable that the film – like alien apartheid flick District 9, released earlier this year – is emphatically a fantasy about race. Specifically, it’s a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people. Avatar and scifi films like it give us the opportunity to answer the question: What do white people fantasize about when they fantasize about racial identity? [...]
These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color – their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the “alien” cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become “race traitors,” and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It’s not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it’s not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It’s a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.
Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it’s like to be a Na’vi because he always has the option to switch back into human mode. Interestingly, Wikus in District 9 learns a very different lesson. He’s becoming alien and he can’t go back. He has no other choice but to live in the slums and eat catfood. And guess what? He really hates it. He helps his alien buddy to escape Earth solely because he’s hoping the guy will come back in a few years with a “cure” for his alienness. When whites fantasize about becoming other races, it’s only fun if they can blithely ignore the fundamental experience of being an oppressed racial group. Which is that you are oppressed, and nobody will let you be a leader of anything.
—From “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?” Annalee Newitz, io9.
Read the whole piece at io9.com
By Guest Contributor Nicole Stamp, originally published at [pageslap]
Saw District 9 tonight, the alien movie by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson. I thought it was appallingly racist; here’s why. (Spoilers ahead.)
Basically, 20 years ago, a million crustacean-like space aliens arrived in Johannesberg. They’re forced to live in a horrible slum called District 9, and now the human citizens want them gone, so they’re about to be evicted from their slum and relocated to a concentration camp outside the city.
If you look at the film as an apartheid allegory, it has problems right off the bat. The aliens are loathsome, trash-eating vermin who fight endlessly, destroy property for no reason, and piss on their own homes, which isn’t a truthful or flattering allegorical comparison for actual black South Africans under apartheid. Apartheid is terrible because humans were denied rights. The “apartheid” of these aliens isn’t that terrible – it’s kind of justifiable, because they’re actually dangerous, violent and destructive. I think it would be a better allegory, and a more sophisticated movie, if the aliens weren’t unpleasant. If they were peaceful and kind, but the humans still demonized them, the film would be much more chilling; the horror would be “man’s inhumanity to lobster-man”, not “eew gross they eat pig heads!”
But to my knowledge, District 9 does not explicitly present itself as an apartheid allegory, and changing the nature of the aliens basically makes it a different movie, so I’m gonna give it a pass in this post (although I’m very open to hearing other people’s thoughts about the allegorical angle). I think the choice to make the aliens disgusting was mostly artistic license, designed to make the film’s tone and visuals more gritty and scary, rather than any attempt to actually be representative of black people oppressed by apartheid. So that wasn’t my problem with this film.
By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García
Also posted at Arturo Vs. The World
The much ballyhooed District 9 succeeds at one thing – it leaves you with questions. The problem is, not all of them are of the good kind.
The film’s conceit – sticking a million-plus misplaced extraterrestrials in the middle of Johannesburg – is promising. But from there, the story is built on a series of cheats, the biggest one being the rather loud absence of the word that, like it or not, comes to mind once you set the story in South Africa: Apartheid.