James Cameron from the Future

In a presentation last week at UC Berkeley, Sônia Bone Guajajara, coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples (APIB), spoke of the director James Cameron’s role in aiding the indigenous efforts to stop the construction of the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil. Cameron, responsible for the critically acclaimed Avatar, among other tremendously successful franchises, met with the Amazonian Xingu, aiming to elevate their message with his celebrity clout. Pictured below is Cameron, clad with indigenous face paint and garlands, speaking with a Xingu leader.

Image credit: Atossa Soldani / EPA

In Cameron’s Avatar, the earthly westerns take on indigenous form in order to facilitate communication with the natives of Pandora. This dressing-up is a mechanism of deceit, as the westerners want to take over the natives’ land to mine a precious mineral. Jake Sully, the American protagonist, eventually adopts the natives’ cause, and fights against his former colleagues to protect the land. Similarly, James Cameron, a western filmmaker, sided with the indigenous Xingu in their opposition of the wealthy elite behind Belo Monte. Cameron’s traditional garb doesn’t seem to be a ploy for an ulterior motive, but I find it jarring nonetheless.

Image credit: 20th Century Fox

Appropriating aboriginal culture has been a hot-topic issue in the media of late. Some Canadian music festivals have gone so far as to ban feathered headdresses. Cameron’s garlands don’t strike me as a device of appropriation, but they appear contrived. Cameron addresses this in an interview with The Guardian:

“I think one of the biggest questions is: ‘What is your standing? What are you gringos doing here? What gives you the right to tell us how to run things within our country? It’s our problem, it’s not your problem.’ I get all that, but North America is Brazil’s future. We can come to Brazil from the future and say: ‘Don’t do this.’

This response is all but comforting. It carries an air of entitlement and brings to mind interventionist military efforts. While Cameron’s involvement with the Xingu aided in bringing global attention to the issue, I don’t find his “from the future” approach to be praise-worthy.

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