People Are Boycotting Avatar 2 Because It’s Racist?

Native American influencer Yuè Begay is calling for a boycott of Avatar 2, alleging its racist themes and director James Cameron's past comments.

By Nathan Kamal | Updated

avatar 2 racist

Indigenous activists are calling for a boycott of Avatar 2 (aka Avatar: The Way of Water) due to allegedly racist tropes of the story and comments from director James Cameron himself. In particular, a Native American activist and influencer named Yuè Begay is using Twitter to implore audiences to boycott Avatar 2 due to what is described as the racist use of “blueface” and because of comments from a 2010 James Cameron interview with The Guardian in which he called Lakota Sioux culture “a dead end society.” 

Begay specifically calls on people to “Join Natives & other Indigenous groups around the world in boycotting this horrible & racist film. Our cultures were appropriated in a harmful manner to satisfy some [white] man’s savior complex.” In The Guardian interview she is referencing, James Cameron described himself as feeling that he had a kind of insight into the mindset of Lakota Sioux culture in the late 19th century and that if they had known how the cultural genocide and displacement of Native Americans had transpired, “they would have fought a lot harder.” 

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James Cameron has frequently discussed how the plots of Avatar and Avatar 2 are heavily inspired by the struggles of indigenous cultures, which many see as racist in and of itself. In particular, Avatar 2 is coming under heavy criticism for casting predominantly white actors to portray the Na’vi species (which is coded as a blend of indigenous cultures), leading to accusations of “blueface.” This is a reference to the highly controversial practice of blackface (also brownface and yellowface), in which actors portray members of other races.

Avatar 2 is also being criticized for utilizing a literary trope often considered racist, in which a white protagonist is introduced to an indigenous culture and swiftly becomes its leader and/or a fully accepted and exceptional member of it. Other examples of this trope include Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan stories (in which an abandoned white child becomes “king of the jungle” in Africa), Kevin Costner’s Academy Award-winning Dances with Wolves (in which a Union Army veteran joins a group of Lakota Sioux), and the Taylor Kitsch flop John Carter (in which a Confederate Army veteran is transported to Mars and becomes a superpowered hero). 

It will remain to be seen whether Avatar 2 might be affected by calls for a boycott over racist themes. James Cameron’s latest science fiction epic is a unique case in cinema, in that it is a sequel to the single highest-grossing film of all time and thus likely to have some audience excitement built in. On the other hand, the enormous budget of Avatar 2 (not to mention the 13-year development and production gap) has made it a risky proposition at the box office, even without the threat of a boycott over racist themes. 

Reportedly, Avatar 2 will have to be one of the highest-grossing movies in film history just to make its budget back, and initial box office numbers have not exactly been promising. However, much of the success of the film will depend on the overseas gross of the film and its longevity in theaters, so we will just have to wait and see.