Holiday catch up: Part 2… Avatar review – no spoilers I promise!

Happy New Year equality lovers!

I took a bit of a break from blogging over the Festive period for some total R&R and resolved to think only as hard as was required to maintain a quiet existence between my sofa, the park and the warm interiors of the homes of friends and family. However, as every woman will know, even the simplest of existences is gendered thanks to the pervasive sexism that has infected everything we see and do. So despite my best efforts to be oblivious here are some things that happened over Christmas that made me think like a feminist (Part 2 of 3):

2. I went to see Avatar.

My expectations of gender portrayal in films are pretty low with even the most edgy, indie offerings from the movie world consistently disappointing me with their lack of insight. By and large, films are still made by men, about men and for men. In the case of Avatar however, I was so completely enthralled by the effortlessness with which the male and female characters equally shared space, interacted, saved the day, made sacrifices and inspired hope, that it left me wondering how on earth a male film-maker managed to get it so right. In a world where little girls are taught by popular culture that they are there to inspire the male hero they love (reluctantly cause he’s usually a bit of a screw up when it comes to relationships) to greatness, maybe knock out a few bad guys along the way but ultimately have to be rescued, Avatar is like a big old subversive spanner in the works. I love Sigourney Weaver as the brilliant scientist and humanitarian who even in the face of death mumbles “I have to get samples.” Michelle Rodriguez is a kick ass Marine with equal amounts of attitude and moral courage and as an actress she lives up to her own high standards:

I don’t want people thinking of me sexually. I don’t want people to be like, ‘She’s hot-looking,’ you know? I want them to listen to me for what I am saying…I had a couple of offers to do some hot scenes in the shower with some guy and to make it real hot and sexy. The next thing you know, I’d be the next J.Lo or something. But that’s easy. I want [success] the hard way.”

And then there’s Zoe Saldana, who like Rodriguez is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent. She has made an impact on the industry in the last couple of years with her smarts and determination and has spoken candidly about her experience of gender and race in the movie business and the media. She plays Neytiri, the Navi heir to the spiritual leadership of the clan who saves the life of her male counterpart numerous times and saves his soul by teaching him everything about life and nature that he didn’t know he didn’t know.

OK, so the main character Jake is still a boy, but there’s something about the incredible team of ladies he finds himself a part of and the integrity in the relationships portrayed that means it doesn’t even seem to matter. As he becomes a part of them and they a part of him, the hierarchy and power struggles dissolve. There are no frail females here relying on male strength to protect them, and even the proud Dr Grace learns to trust him as they both let down their defensive exteriors. While Jake has a “chosen one” calling throughout, it is only through relying on others that it can be fulfilled and in that sense it is extremely feminist. I bloody loved it. I must confess there’s something about the Navi that may make me a little biased…it’s their bodies. There is a lot of semi-nudity in this movie, animated blue alien nudity, and it is not about objectifying or sexualising or reinforcing the usual ideal of female shape that Hollywood has apparently co-opted from the porn industry. These fabulous creatures are long, lean, athletic, and the women are small breasted, muscular and graceful. Their bodies are not to tantalize or be consumed, but rather to be strong, to rise to whatever challenge they face and to survive. My own personal body image baggage comes from spending my teenage years in a body that I hadn’t quite grown into, lanky and flat-chested I knew from an early age I wasn’t what boys wanted. I wrote this in my first ever gender studies essay when I was 19 about how my involvement in sport influenced my gender identity:

The only time I felt confident about my body was when I was running. On the track I felt like it was performing the function it was made for and even had some beauty to it but the rest of the time I felt awkward and angular.”

So the first female movie character I have identified with in years is a 10 foot blue alien. Cheers Hollywood. The movie is progressive in other ways too, having a male lead who is a wheelchair user for a start, and of course there’s the fact that the American military-corporate occupation on the planet Pandora are portrayed as self-interested, violent aliens who dehumanize those who are different from them in order to justify killing people so they can take what they want. What a fascinating concept…

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