But it is highly probable that James Cameron’s Avatar will win as Best Picture because, first of all, it has already grossed $2 billion in a record-setting few months on the world market. It also provides the obligatory liberal concerns emphatically argued in a cartoon form: Black, brown, red and yellow people are made into blue humanoids, complete with pointed ears, braids and tails. The film is opposed to colonialism, imperialism, military aggression, ethnic paranoia and ruthless threats to the ecology forced by corporate irresponsibility. The humanoids are clearly this year’s noble savages who partner with nature. That is why the blue people and the forest itself are fated to battle the white man as inextricable allies.
Though cinematic technology has become more sophisticated over the years, the familiar stays firmly in place, which is one of the reasons Avatar has been so successful. In an appearance on The View, Cameron said that he wanted to make a film about our endangered ecology but could only get backing if he presented it in a contemporary sci-fi format.
The box-office receipts prove that the studio executives were right. The masses can absorb these ideas, just as they did when Hollywood took a licking stick to Southern racism, the Vietnam War, Wall Street hustlers, sexism and so on. Avatar, as Teresa Wiltz has observed right here on The Root, is many well-meaning clichés rolled into one seemingly endless 3-D marathon.
One of the wonders of popular culture, however, is that profoundly important issues can be kicked around with no more depth than a cartoon page, but all of those soppy pages stacked one atop another, year after year after year, eventually create a lumpy critical mass that can trip up the clichés of bigotry and help send them for a heavy fall. An extremely successful marketing firm recently found out through a worldwide survey that the No. 1 issue on the minds of the many is the ecology. Hmm.
The attempted extermination of European Jews through industrialized murder can never be outdistanced in importance: It underlines one of the ongoing threats to our species, which is what can happen when wrong-minded people have command of nearly irresistible technology.