Environmentalism and the "Ecological Indian" in Avatar: A Visual Analysis

Justin Fritz


James Cameron's 2009 blockbuster, Avatar, is a tale of Indigenous resistance to environmental destruction. In the film, Earth moves outward to distant planets in order to satisfy its resource hunger. In their search, Earthlings arrive on Pandora, a biologically rich planet with a diverse and complex ecosystem. In defence of their home planet, the Indigenous people of Pandora (the Na'vi) engage in combat with the earthlings over which aspect of the planet is more important: the life above or the resources below. The environmental message in Avatar is one which promotes balance and harmony between humans and nature. However, this balance is represented by the film’s essentialized Indigenous population. Thus, as a foil for Earth's technology-dependent resource-intensive society, the Na'vi are represented as a stereotypical Indigenous population; they are cast as closer to nature in their role as the "ecological Indian." By using archaic portrayals of Indigenous peoples, the film uses an "Indigenous" voice to propel its environmental message. This article visually analyzes how the film uses, produces, and perpetuates stereotypical representations of Indigenous peoples and how these representations effect and advance the film’s environmental message.


environmentalism; ecological Indian; representation; visual analysis; noble savage; ignoble savage; Avatar; Indigeneity

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18357/tar31201211530

Copyright (c) 2012 Justin Fritz


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ISSN 1923-1334 (Online)

University of Victoria