Thursday, March 04, 2010

Avatar as a political statement

The Oscars are around the corner and I'm rooting for The Hurt Locker. However, it is hard to avoid the talk of Avatar. I don't want to sound snooty, but I really did find the movie painful to watch - the acting and the story was just awful - and its amazing special special effects were not enough to mask its glaring shortcomings. However, here is a very clever use of Na'vi for political purposes by Palestinian protesters on the West Bank:
On February 12, at the now regular demonstrations and clashes in the town of Bilin, pro-Palestinian demonstrators appeared in blue body paint as the Na’vi—the film’s indigenous people who are threatened by the human corporate mining of “unobtainium.” Among those reenacting the parts of “Na’vi” were Palestinians, Israeli activists, and Europeans. As the Bilin demonstrations have been going on for almost five years and have attracted the attention of the international media, the photos of the blue-painted demonstrators were seen around the world.

The conflict at Bilin revolves around disputes over the West Bank separation barrier—what many Israelis call the ‘security fence’ and what Palestinians refer to as the ‘racial segregation wall.’ The section of the barrier that runs through Bilin separates the villagers from their farming land. The town’s villagers and their political supporters took their case through the Israeli court system and organized demonstrations, often involving hundreds of protesters.

In 2007 the Israeli Supreme Court decided that the path of the barrier had to be changed to accommodate the villagers’ needs, though the court’s will has yet to be carried out. But the media message of the Avatar-style protest was highly successful: the Palestinians were understood to be the innocent Na’vi while the Israeli settlers were the outsiders, interlopers. As the West Bank Settlers (and the large number of Israeli supporters) understand themselves to be the true ‘indigenous population’—the descendants of the ancient Israelites to whom the Land was promised—this media critique cut to the bone.

Whatever the politics and whatever you think of the movie, this is a fantastic use of a cultural phenomenon. The article is actually quite good and places the the use of Na'vi with other cultural reference in the conflict, including that of David and Goliath. Read the full article here.

But don't let the clever use of Na'vi fool you from the inanity of the movie itself. Here is a fantastic Avatar-Pocahontas mash-up (tip Emily West):

CFV 426 - Avatar/Pocahontas Mashup FINAL VERSION from Randy Szuch on Vimeo.


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