Avatar's Political Allegory: Lessons for Our World on Greed and Marginalization

11 April 2023
Some might say that James Cameron's 2009 science fiction film Avatar is just 'smurfs in space'.

But if you pay real attention to the themes and story, the film is a powerful example of the use of political allegory in cinema.

The film explores a range of themes, including imperialism and colonialism, environmentalism and conservation, capitalism and consumerism, racism and discrimination, and indigenous rights and resistance.

One of the most prominent themes in Avatar is imperialism and colonialism

The film is set on the distant planet of Pandora, where a corporation called the Resources Development Administration (RDA) has established a mining operation to extract a valuable mineral called unobtanium. The Na'vi people, the indigenous inhabitants of Pandora, are viewed as a primitive species by the human colonizers and are seen as standing in the way of progress and profit.

The theme of imperialism and colonialism is a central component of Avatar's political allegory. The film portrays the RDA as a colonial power that seeks to exploit Pandora and its resources for profit, regardless of the consequences for the Na'vi people or the planet's ecosystem. The Na'vi are marginalized and oppressed by the human colonizers, who view them as primitive and inferior.

This narrative is reflective of the history of colonialism and imperialism in our world, where powerful nations and corporations have exploited the resources and people of less powerful nations and communities for their own gain. 

The film's depiction of the RDA's ruthless pursuit of profit at the expense of the Na'vi's way of life is a commentary on the destructive consequences of imperialism and the impact it can have on marginalized communities.

One criticism of Avatar is that it draws heavily on the colonialism and imperialism narrative that has been seen in other works of fiction. The film has been described as "Pocahontas in space" by some critics who argue that its plot and themes are too similar to those seen in other stories. However, while the film may not be entirely original in its depiction of imperialism and colonialism, it does offer a powerful commentary on these themes.

One of the strengths of Avatar's political allegory is its use of symbolism and visual storytelling. The film's depiction of the Na'vi's connection to their environment and their reverence for nature is a powerful representation of the importance of environmentalism and conservation. 

The sacred trees of the Na'vi are an important symbol of their culture and way of life, and the destruction of these trees by the RDA represents the destructive impact of human greed and the exploitation of the environment.

Colonel Miles Quaritch
Colonel Miles Quaritch

The character of Colonel Miles Quaritch is another powerful symbol of the film's critique of imperialism and colonialism. Quaritch represents the military-industrial complex that supports and drives imperialism, and his willingness to use violence and force to achieve his goals is a commentary on the violence and brutality that are often used to maintain colonial power. 

His character is an embodiment of the idea that imperialism is driven by a desire for power and profit at the expense of marginalized communities.

The film also critiques capitalism and consumerism

The human characters are driven solely by a desire for profit, and they view the Na'vi and the environment as obstacles to their bottom line. The RDA's entire operation on Pandora is driven by greed, and the corporation's leadership is willing to sacrifice anything or anyone to increase their profits. 

This is exemplified in the character of Parker Selfridge, who is the head of the RDA's operations on Pandora. He sees the Na'vi and the environment as nothing more than obstacles to be overcome in his quest for profit.

Avatar also explores themes of racism and discrimination

The Na'vi people are viewed as inferior and primitive by the human colonizers, who see themselves as superior and entitled to the resources of Pandora known as unobtainium. The human characters use racial slurs and view the Na'vi as expendable and disposable. The film also touches on the concept of "othering" and the idea that people are often dehumanized and marginalized based on superficial differences.

Finally, Avatar depicts the struggle of the Na'vi people to defend their land and culture against the invading humans. The Na'vi use their knowledge of the land and their spiritual connection to nature to resist the human invasion and protect their way of life. 

The film also highlights the importance of solidarity and support from allies in social justice movements. The character of Jake Sully, a former marine who becomes sympathetic to the Na'vi cause, represents the potential for individuals to ally themselves with marginalized communities and work towards justice and equality.

James Cameron's Avatar is a powerful example of the use of political allegory in cinema. Through its exploration of themes such as imperialism and colonialism, environmentalism and conservation, capitalism and consumerism, racism and discrimination, and indigenous rights and resistance, the film offers a powerful critique of the destructive consequences of human greed and the importance of respecting and valuing marginalized communities.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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