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Indigenous People Leading Boycott of ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’

Ronal, a Na'vi with a large shell on her forehead, puts her hand on her chest in Avatar: The Way of Water.

Less than a week after the film’s release, Indigenous people are calling for a boycott of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water.

The boycott, initially reported by the Los Angeles Times, was launched by Diné activist Yuè Begay. Begay tweeted an invitation to “Join Natives & other Indigenous groups around the world in boycotting this horrible & racist film. Our cultures were appropriated in a harmful manner to satisfy some [white] man’s savior complex.”

Begay’s statement points to two major problems with James Cameron and Avatar: The Way of Water. The first is a problematic statement Cameron made about the Lakota Sioux in 2010, which has resurfaced following the release of his sequel. In the statement, Cameron says he was inspired to make the first Avatar because “if [the Lakota Sioux] had had a time-window and they could see the future … [and they could see that] they were hopeless and they were a dead-end society … they would have fought a lot harder.”

The second problem Begay’s statement highlights is what Native people call “blueface,” or the practice of having white people play faux-Indigenous CGI characters. “James Cameron is guilty of favoring non-Indigenous folks to play Na’vi, an alien race based on many Indigenous cultures he [appropriated] from,” the statement reads. Cliff Curtis, who plays the Metkayina leader Tonowari, is Māori, but other Na’vi characters are played by non-Indigenous actors.

In her Twitter thread and on Instagram, Begay shared actions and resources for those who want to support Indigenous people, including a list of Indigenous-made films and books.

Other Indigenous people also spoke out against Cameron and Avatar: The Way of Water, denouncing his comments on the Lakota Sioux and telling moviegoers to avoid the film.

The Los Angeles Times has reached out to Cameron for comment. The Mary Sue submitted a question about Indigenous inclusion at the Avatar: The Way of Water global press conference, but the question wasn’t among those selected to be put to the cast and crew.

(featured image: 20th Century Studios)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and watches Marvel movies. You can check out more of her writing at linktr.ee/juliaglassman, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.