By Jessica Lee
Several months after the release of Avatar, which quickly became the top grossing film of all time, and two days after the release of the DVD on Earth Day, Cameron was invited to speak at two events on April 24 that were associated with the Ninth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues taking place in New York City from April 19-30.
“I’d just like to say it is a tremendous honor for me to be here,” Cameron said in his introduction to a special evening screening of Avatar to some 400 people from the indigenous forum at the New York Directors Guild Theatre in Midtown Manhattan. “I applaud what you [at the forum] are doing. It is so critical given how many indigenous cultures are under threat throughout the world.”
Cameron said that he has been astonished by the response to the film and said that many indigenous communities and environmental organizations have contacted him seeking his help and support.
“It has been very, very interesting for me in the last couple of months to see how many people have come to [my wife] Susie and myself asking if there is something we can do in association with Avatar because so many people around the world working with indigenous issues have seen their reality in the film—even though the film is a fantasy that takes place on a mythical world—people are seeing their reality through the lens of this movie.”
While he said that he had never worked with indigenous people before in his life, he says he is now very committed to helping illuminate these struggles worldwide. “I never really dreamed that a Hollywood film could have that significant of an impact,” Cameron said on panel discussion earlier in the afternoon, “Not only is this is an opportunity, it is a duty. I do have a responsibility now to go beyond the film, because it doesn’t teach, and to become an advocate myself and use what media power I have to raise awareness.”
Comment: A few points:
1) It sounds as though Cameron didn't know anything about indigenous issues before making Avatar. Undoubtedly this is reflected in the movie's super-simplistic storyline.
2) People have invoked Avatar in at least three conflicts around the world: Canada, Palestine, and Brazil. Yet people claim movies have no influence in the real world and are just pieces of entertainment? The facts prove this ignorant view wrong.
3) Cameron apparently was inspired by his own movie--researching and writing it--to become involved in environmental and indigenous causes. This shows how powerful the Native narrative can be. If you think about it, it has a timeless story structure: heroes (Natives) face an overwhelming foe, suffer a terrible defeat, but come back to win in the end.
Stories about slackers, hipsters, and yuppies aren't classically American. Stories about underdogs--e.g., minorities and immigrants--pursuing their dreams are. Something like Avatar--good Natives triumph over bad imperialists--should be a no-brainer for Hollywood.
For more on the subject, see Dam Suspended with Cameron's Help and Cameron's Conversion to Environmentalist.
Below: James Cameron joins the panel discussion, “Real Life ‘Pandoras’ on Earth: Indigenous Peoples Urgent Struggles For Survival,” held at the Paley Center for Media in Midtown Manhattan April 24, 2010.