As a Black woman. As a Black mother! As someone who loves both kids and movies. James Cameron’s new “Avatar: The Way of Water” film left me … for a lack of a better word in this review, distressed.
After putting it off for days, I finally convinced myself to attend an advanced screening of “Avatar: The Way of Water” last night.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to see it. I was convinced I needed to see it, after watching the trailer in theaters. It looked beautiful. (And we all know I absolutely loved the Top Gun sequel, so I was all the more hopeful that this one would be just as great, if not better.)
But as my screening date approached, and my ‘end of year’ energy and patience for anything outside of laying in bed dwindled — I hesitated. Something inside told me it wasn’t worth the extra hassle.
Yet my “dreams” of becoming a “better film critic” wouldn’t allow me to pass up on another opportunity to see a film my peers seemed to rave about. Welp, that’s the last time I let y’all bully me into watching a movie.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” Review
About the sequel …
If you’re unfamiliar with the world of Pandora, or just Avatar’s sequel itself … the film is meant to be about the famous ‘Jake Sully’ (Sam Worthington) — who was once a paralyzed former marine who visited the ‘alien world’ and fell in love with a Na’vi woman (Zoe Saldaña).
Now a married Avatar, a human/Na’vi hybrid, and the leader of “his people”, Jake is also a father of four who must do whatever it takes to save his family. Even if that means leaving those that he loves behind.
But what we actually get, is a story of mixed messages, unnecessary violence, a touch of white colonialism, and a whole lot of nothing.
If this movie was written to purposely anger me and remind me why (most) white people disgust me … it succeeded.
While it may be beautiful to watch on screen, the story of “Avatar: The Way of Water” is basically a mashup of Disney’s “Pocahontas” and “Tarzan” on steroids. Especially since they insist on calling one of the kids ‘monkey boy’ and the people ‘indigenous’.
Outside of its impeccable world creation, a few heartfelt moments and it’s “Free Willy” similarities, the story doesn’t do much for me. And instead of ending on a positive note, it ends with a wonderful display of frail male ego, completely throwing aside its core theme.
It’s triggers …
The film starts out, and continues throughout, with a shocking amount of violence towards kids, that is extremely triggering for anyone that identifies as a Black mother. And this is one of the many tells that this movie wasn’t made for “us”. But it’s this continuous display of white supremacy in a “cultural” village, that forces me to wonder why white men are so insistent on being seen as the almighty, and all powerful.
Who hurt you?! It surely wasn’t the Native Americans or Africans you enslaved, and now use in every story you tell to remind those of how “powerful” you are. It surely wasn’t the immigrants and children you left for dead at the border, because “they don’t belong here”. As if you yourself came to this land here by invitation.
So excuse me if my trauma as a Black person, as a Black woman, and as a Black mother who was born right here in the good ol’ USA … is triggered when your story has purposely woven in the worst parts of my history, of our history, so nonchalantly.
Excuse me, if I can only see the Na’vi people as Native Americans in blue paint, who were forced out of their homes so you could take over, and disrespect their land, animals, and culture.
Excuse me, if I can only see the Na’vi children being pushed to the ground, as little Black girls and boys, who have guns pushed in their faces, to remind them that you think Black children are worthless and beneath you. Maybe police brutality wasn’t a thing when you sat down to write this script, forgive me … the pandemic wiped out two years, and now all time is frazzled.
Finally when the blatant triggers stop angering you for a moment, and we’re given a lovable heartwarming scene of child innocence, as they learn a new culture, make new friends and love interests, in a land that feels unlike their own, we’re slapped on the other cheek with cowardly displays of the frail male ego.
Not only is Jake Sully portrayed as a father who is unable to protect his family, or community. They add insult to injury by making him a coward as well. And considering he’s now the leader of the Na’vi Forest villagers, people who share one too many similarities with Native Americans for us to see them as ‘white’, this storytelling leaves me completely disgusted.
Of course you would create a story about a fake culture, fake community, and then make them the less-thans in their own world! Why would you create a story about a culture of your own that shows others how truly wonderful being different can be?
Time after time again, we get stories about women who are stronger than their male counterparts, braver, and wiser — disguised as stories that are meant to uplift women, and show them that they too can be strong. But as a Black woman, I’m all too familiar with the fact that I can be strong. Where are the stories of men who protect us, and listen to us?
Why does it take death, for men to be capable of hearing anything other than their own voices? Why do men still write narratives, where they put women through the worst, and then ask her to be his all, while she’s in pain and mourning, because he “needs” her? Why can’t you envision a world where you’re not monsters?! Is that too much to ask for?
And when that’s all said and done, after the violence towards children, the cowardly non-courageous father, and shell of a man who “leaves to protect”, instead of staying to fight for what’s rightfully theirs. Immediately throwing me back to the helpless father in “Till” who stood by and watched Emmett get taken, to “protect his family”. As if this isn’t emotionally exhausting enough, here comes the poachers and the disrespect for animals. And while I was excited to see them use sign language underwater, it’s all a bit too much.
How many times do white people need to “borrow” from other cultures to “create their own”, instead of just learning and respecting others? How many times will they retell the stories of our past that haunt so many of us still to this very day, for “entertainment”?
The stories described above are woven into “Avatar: The Way of Water” and are everything I hate about this movie.
What I wanted instead …
Had they given us just a story about the Metkayina village, its people, and how hard it was for the Na’vi to adapt, due to nature taking its course and removing them from their home, with the complexities of parenthood, I would have given this 5 stars easily.
There’s a lot to love about Pandora! Its world creation is seriously one of the best, and easily one of the most believable sci fi flicks of our time. Plus, its sea creators are absolutely adorable. It’s only a shame that its story doesn’t match up. I really and truly had hoped that this movie would make me feel the way the Avatar Flight of Passage ride at Walt Disney World did.
Had it not been for its stunning cinematography, “Avatar: The Way of Water” would be an easy cast away, just like this year’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore“. Which I almost forgot about.
Should you still watch “Avatar: The Way of Water” in theaters?
So if you’re wondering if you should bother seeing the newest Avatar film in theaters, I’d wait and watch it on your big screen at home … for free, when it’s finally streaming. That way if you’re as angered as I was, you can pause and grab popcorn, or discard it altogether, and watch something else — like “The Woman King“, “Everything Everywhere All At Once“, “RRR” or even “Turning Red” for what may be your millionth watch by now. Hell even “The Bad Guys” was a shocker this year.
If you’re wondering if you should let your kids watch this, please be alarmed that its PG-13 rating, is definitely for older kids. Normally my 10 year old can get away with watching PG 13 films, since most are on the milder side, but this one does have a ton of potty mouth kids who cuss too damn much, and as I said before, there’s definitely a lot of violence. Similar to the amount of violence in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” I suppose?
If you already bought your tickets to see it in theaters — may the force be with you. I hope you enjoy it despite me announcing, what I feel like, are its flaws, because it is a good movie outside my rage. It’s just not a GREAT movie, like I was led to believe, and for the reasons above.
And if you’re planning to see this in 3D, and you wear thick, big glasses like moi — good luck, because I struggled. And a film should not be so damn difficult to watch, when you have four eyes to begin with. Whew lawd. Glasses folks — just watch it in IMAX, if available, or standard instead. I spent half the movie pushing the 3D glasses upward, up off the bridge of my nose so I could breathe properly. It was a big distraction.
One last thing …
That end credits song wasn’t it. The Weekend wasn’t needed there, just like Jake’s whitewashed dreads needed a re-twist, bad. But alas, when one has to choose between family, their pride, and common sense, one doesn’t have much room left to think about their hairstyles on camera. Either way, they both could have easily been removed from this film, and no one would bat an ungrateful eye.