Navajo Filmmaker Arlene Bowman: Avatar Review from an Indigenous/Dine' Perspective

 Film Review of AVATAR from an Indigenous/Dine' Perspective

When will white men stop making guilt movies about Indians?

By Arlene Bowman, Dine' filmmaker
Censored News
Viewed the AVATAR December 29, 09 at the local theatre for $10.00 Canadian dollars. I liked the animated effects a lot, but not the story line of the film, written and directed by James Cameron. The film review When Will White Men Stop Making Movies like Avatar points out, "whites need to stop remaking the white guilt story, which is a sneaky way of turning every story about people of color into a story about being white. Speaking as a white person, I don't need to hear more about my own racial experience. I'd like to watch some movies about people of color (ahem, aliens), from the perspective of that group, without injecting a random white (erm, human) character to explain everything to me. (1)"

These are surprising comments because I rarely hear white people express so open a point-of-view. Few people get it; also, at the same time say it. I am use to conservative commentaries or the dah factor, people who do not get it. The plot story line generally is similar to the DANCES WITH WOLVES film, how a white guy because he likes the indigenous people, in this example, the Na'vi people, decides to save them and does. Whoop de doo! Do we need another white character to save us?

The only redeeming quality of DANCES WITH WOLVES is that it featured all Native American and First Nation actors in lead roles, but the story was stereotyped. How many times will Indigenous people play the frozen image of Plains culture and regalia from the late 1800s as in many Hollywood westerns; for example, Winchester '73 made in 1950. Hey! Indigenous people from North America are CONTEMPORARY as the rest of world! DANCES WITH WOLVES represented a vehicle for the producer, Kevin Costner, which put him on the map as a feature film maker.

As the essay pointed out, Jake Sully has choices. Jake can be either or: a white guy or be apart of the Na'vi people where as the Na'vi people do not have a choice. Indigenous people for example, were born with the way they look, the language they speak or the culture they grew up in; also, Indigenous peoples were the first peoples who lived in North America before any peoples travelled over. No one discovered us. Indigenous people in the U.S. have lots of histories; for example, ever since the colonists planted themselves at Jamestown with their superior/ulterior motives to cash in on the natural commodities of tobacco where First Americans-Tsenacomoco and others lived, Native Americans have had to stand up and fight a repressed control freak colonial mentality forever it seems passed from generation to generation, thickened within white North America because the U.S. thinks they own us. This is an illustration of A SINGLE ISSUE. AT PRESENT TIME, there are MANY issues the mainstream press does not cover or that editors censor out such as the events about what really goes on between Homeland Security and the Tohono O'odham who live on the US Arizona/Mexican border, which the general public is unaware. Why is it not covered? It is just another way to manipulate information unscrupulously about Native Americans by not informing the public.

It is so easy for Sully to just vacate if he decided not to help out anymore. Of course, First Nations and Native Americans need help from non Native people who empathize with their issues or causes, but to have to rehash this same ole story again in a mainstream film is unconvincing. Tell it like it is. This is a call out: Indigenous peoples create and use the animation techniques presented within AVATAR; also, write/make the drama/comedy, docu dramas and others to portray experiences to change and turn around stories such as Avatar; however, Indigenous independent cinema and video makers have created cinema/videos since the 70's. When will change happen among ourselves and the rest of the public?? How to change? Own and run a cable network, but how long will that take? Hierarchies exist among Indigenous filmmakers. Therefore, to share information rather than to compete and isolate with each other. There's just no giving up at this point for Indigenous people and filmmakers to change the media. So far at present the internet is an answer.

1. Annalee Newitz, "When Will White Men Stop Making Movies like Avatar,";;, December 2009.
Arlene Bowman

Arlene Bowman is Dine' (Navajo) and was born on the Navajo Nation and grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. She now lives in Vancouver. She completed her master's degree in film at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Arlene Bowman is a Dine' filmmaker whose current mini digital video project is called THE GRAFFITI, a 30 minute experimental drama. Literally she wore many hats to make THE GRAFFITI. Other major films/videos include: 86’ THE NAVAJO TALKING PICTURE, 94’ (see photo) SONG JOURNEY and 94’ WOMEN AND MEN ARE GOOD DANCERS. She wants to write/make more drama projects and documentaries the rest of her life, which she has several ideas about. She aspires to create in the future a conference for Indigenous women filmmakers; also, a non-profit organization for Indigenous and low-come filmmakers.
SYNOPSIS of The Graffiti
Although Jean Biah Lee, an Anishinabe First Nations woman is unsuccessful to change the racism of two white, redneck males who have scribbled graffiti around Vancouver aimed at Indian people, she rebounds from the injustice by writing about it.


Anonymous said…
Could not help to immediatly see the parallel between Dineh and Na'Vi, and appreciate the take that Arlene is taking here! Still wonder how James Cameron thought about this, although translating Na'Vi into "The People" was a bit obvious.

Thank you Arlene! I learn something everyday!
Anonymous said…
Ya'at'eeh Arlene!

I feel so lucky to have come across your blog post. I feel all excited to know that eventually you may read my words. I just finished my senior paper of native filmmaking throughout the history. To say the least, i came across your films many times and just wanted to say ahe'hee for your honesty and uncompromising commitment to celluloid truth. I just wanted to put my two cents. I read somewhere, i think it was in LATimes during the 1910s, that navi was also another way of referring to Navajos. But thanks for being a leader and role model for future native filmmakers!!

Brian young

Popular posts from this blog


Actor Jason Momoa joins efforts in water crisis, as Navajo coronavirus cases intensify

PINE RIDGE: Oglala Lakota enforce border checkpoints after threat from South Dakota State Governor