Is Avatar Radical Environmental Propaganda?

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Sign at the Los Angeles Avatar movie premier

Barry King / Getty Images

NOTE: This is a guest post by Harold Linde, Los Angeles.

James Cameron’s Avatar is without a doubt the most epic piece of environmental advocacy ever captured on celluloid, and it only very thinly veils its message which, on the heels of a failed Copenhagen summit, is more timely now than ever ... Nature will always win.

The film hits all the important environmental talking-points — virgin rain forests threatened by wanton exploitation, indigenous peoples who have much to teach the developed world, a planet which functions as a collective, interconnected Gaia-istic organism, and evil corporate interests that are trying to destroy it all.

If framed in a pedantic environmental documentary, these talking points would be almost unbearable. Do I have to be preached to ... again?

But Avatar sets a fleet of CGI 3-D supercomputers on the environmental problem, transforming the shrill cries of a tired activist movement into pure, gravity-defying magic.

Phosphorescent flora float off the screen while four-eyed pterodactyl-like critters flap their wings above your seat. Surreal, psychotropic-inspired (perhaps?) primordial creatures flutter through impossibly lush, green foliage.

Certainly going to war against the encroaching humans who are threatening your forest habitat is a no-brainer if you are a blue-skinned Na’vi (Hopefully they develop a non-violent sort of eco-tourist destination for their home-world of Pandora in a future sequel). But Cameron squarely puts us, the exploiting white guys, into the hero seat.

Using his blue Na’vi “avatar” body, our heroic, yet wounded everyman Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) must endure the uncomfortable process of falling in love with a foreign world and subsequently declaring war on his former military buddies. The reward — he (a) gets his legs back (b) sleeps with a hot princess, and (c) achieves Dian Fossey-like immortality by being the first human completely initiated into the mysterious Na’vi culture.

Though his two sidekicks (played by Sigourney Weaver and Joel David Moore) restate the scientist as savior archetype nicely, the most engaging — and genuinely radical — character in Avatar is Marine Corps pilot Trudy Chacón (played by Michelle Rodriguez).

While still in uniform, she steals a military helicopter and shoots down much of her former squadron (and their pilots) before going down in flames herself. Unlike her fellow eco-rebels, her character has neither academic dissertation nor indigenous romance to attend to. She chooses the path of eco-martyr (the only environmentally minded human in the film to do so) for the sole reason that destroying the rain forest for profit is morally and spiritually wrong.

This is no Dances with Wolves set in outer space. (If you recall Kevin Costner never points a gun at another American soldier). With Chacon, Avatar becomes radical environmental propaganda — as if Patrick Henry joined Earth First! two centuries into the future.

Try to imagine a major Hollywood blockbuster in which a U.S. Army pilot hijacks a Marine Corps Blackhawk helicopter to shoot down fellow U.S. choppers in order to protect indigenous people fighting to save their rain forest from U.S. oil interests.

Don’t think that could happen? Think again. It just did.

Harold Linde has worked with environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Forest Ethics, PETA, and the Ruckus Society before turning his hand to producing environmental film and television projects such as "11th Hour", "Big Ideas for a Small Planet", "30 Days", and "Edens: Lost and Found". Michelle Rodriquez plays him in the opening of "Battle in Seattle" — a feature film that dramatizes a group of radical environmental activists fighting against the WTO.