Avatar is a threat to social order its official

I went to see James Cameron’s latest blockbuster, Avatar, last week. There were a lot of things I thought about it: overlong (nearly 3 hours!) bit cheesy, not great acting, great effects, gripping and exciting if you left your cynicism at the door. It’s also quite funny if, during the rubbish bits, you look around and see 300 other people wearing what appear to be wayfarer sunglasses inside a cinema.

There is a bit of an Amnesty message in the film too, though. The film mirrors what’s happening with extractive industry projects all over the developing world: big corporations paying lip service to social responsibility while uprooting and abusing indigenous communities in their desperation to extract precious resources quickly and cheaply. OK, so in Avatar the jungle is on a distant planet and the indigenous people are eight feet tall and bright blue. But the corporation behaves no differently.

As I walked out of the cinema I remarked to my friend (who thought the film was rubbish) that it was basically a three-hour trailer for Survival International and is pretty good news for any organisation campaigning against corporate abuse and forced evictions. “It’s a bit like what the baddies did in Avatar” is a much easier way of explaining a lot of these cases to your average man in the street. She scoffed.

However, it appears that perhaps I’m not the only one to have drawn this parallel. It’s somewhat unusual for my views to chime with those of the authorities in China, but it seems that in the case of Avatar, we agree. According to a report in today’s Times, which in turn is quoting from Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, the 2-D version of the film is to be pulled from screens in China to ensure that not too many people see it. There’s speculation as to the rationale: “Reportedly, the authorities have two reasons for this check on Avatar: first, it has taken in too much money and has seized market share from domestic films, and second, it may lead audiences to think about forced removal, and may possibly incite violence.”

Forced removal, or forced evictions, take place in China at an alarming rate, as ordinary people get in the way of economic development by, for instance, farming on land that a developer has earmarked for a new factory. Ditto with the construction of venues for the Beijing Olympics, where people were kicked out of their homes and not given proper compensation. So now, a film about giant blue aliens may join the list of ‘things the Chinese authorities fear’, along with human rights activists (see Peter Beaumont’s great piece in the Observer last weekend); and followers of the peaceful Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Forced eviction isn’t a uniquely Chinese phenomenon, I should add. Poor people are kicked off their land, often by developers, in countries worldwide – many of the communities that Amnesty is highlighting are in Africa, for example. So if you were moved by the plight of Avatar’s Na’vi people, do get involved in our campaign. Unlike the film, we’re only likely to ask you to send and email or come to a demo, not mount a giant bird of prey and fight the attackers with a bow and arrow.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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