Avatar and the Ecological Indian

A response paper is a chance to think about a text image or other artifact in the context of its production the broader social cultural and economic landscape in which it is found and its multiple meanings and uses. For this assignment please write a 5-6 page (1250-1500 words) essay discussing the ways that ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ are represented in the film Avatar (2009). In your response be sure to describe the film and cite specific scenes and images that are relevant to your discussion. Consider the following questions as you formulate a perspective and a thesis: In this assignment you will examine the 2009 science fiction film Avatar as a text and cultural artifact. The film is epic in both the literary sense and in its seamless visual design and effects made possible by the very high production budget. It was a critical and box-office success and is considered a classic of sci-fi alien movies. The franchise includes video games collectables comic book series and has a thriving fan culture. Avatar (2009) background and cultural context (no spoilers): The plot of the film addresses a conflict between an Earth-based and government-supported energy mining corporation that is planning to mine (and thus knowingly destroy) the home-world of a sentient alien society and the Indigenous alien humanoids themselves who live in harmonious connection with their planetary ecosystem. Avatar is a movie and entertainment media franchise (20th Century Fox) that found a receptive audience in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Just three years earlier Al Gore had produced An Inconvenient Truth (2006) a documentary about the anthropogenic causes and consequences of global warming. Concerns about CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and global warming were becoming part of the public sphere. Meanwhile fracking (an oil extraction process and technology called Hydraulic Fracturing) was growing by 45% a year in the United States according to the Economist (https://www.economist.com/business/2012/06/02/shale-of-the-century). Fracking had started to become an environmental concern as early as the late 1990s but had not yet become a major focus of news or social media. But by the late 2000s electric and hybrid vehicles began to fill a growing market niche and green marketing had become mainstream. The renewables vs. fossil fuels debate had entered into the mainstream after An Inconvenient Truth and has informed a range of perspectives and opinions representing environmental state corporate and security interests since. Avatar was released in December 2009 into this environmental public sphere where it quickly became the highest grossing film in history (a title it held for ten years). The film depicts the alien natives (the Na’vi) who are defending their planet Pandora (get the symbolism?) from an Earth based mining company (called “the Company” in the film) that has plans to mine all the “unobtanium” (more symbolism) from the planet destroying the Na’vi’s culture and environment in the process. As Justine Fritz (2012) describes the film it has an environmental message “promotes balance and harmony between humans and nature.” The plot pits the Indigenous Na’vi on the side of nature against the Company and the military on the side of corporate greed. In this equation the Na’vi “are represented as a stereotypical Indigenous population; they are cast as closer to nature in their role as the “ecological Indian” (2012). The resulting characters blend this stereotype of Native and Indigenous cultural practices and lifeways with the exotic and interconnected landscape of Pandora. The flora and fauna are a mix of Sci-Fi and Fantasy motifs rendered in a lifelike glowing and fluid CGI world. Fritz calls our attention to the ways that the film’s dependence on stereotypes “uses produces and perpetuates stereotypical representations of Indigenous peoples.” She goes on to argue that these representations have real effects in many peoples’ and communities’ lives and how those effects may impact the film’s meaning and environmental message. Requirements: 5-6 page (1250-1500 words) essay | .doc file What is at stake for the protagonists and antagonists in the film? How does the film depict good and bad? How are the stakes framed by the plot and represented by the characters and images of the film? How do relationships help show the stakes for the main characters? What are some examples of real-life environmental conflicts? Describe some of the parallels and similarities between the film and your example. What are some differences? Using a specific example (#NoDAPL for example) describe the real-world stakes and explain who the stakeholders are. How does Justine Fritz’s concept of the “ecological Indian” contribute to our understanding of the real-world lives and perspective of Indigenous and Native people? In what ways is the film’s environmental message persuasive? In what ways could that message be more persuasive? What are some possible oppositional or negotiated responses to the dominant position (see Encoding/Decoding Environmental Media pgs. 67-70 in Pezzullo and Cox). What kinds of images and stories will be effective for environmental communication and advocacy in the future? Will green marketing become more or less influential? Which places cultures people and technologies will come to represent global warming sea level rise species extinctions pandemics and other environmental crises? ‘

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