Avatar Inspires Activism: An Environmental Message From the World of Pandora – Impakter

Humans are a destructive force on the world, whose unsustainable greed exploits its rich natural resources, damages its environment, destroys the precious biodiversity that exists there, and displaces the innocent indigenous communities that otherwise live in harmony with nature. 

A harsh but honest reflection of modern developed civilisation, but one that’s not actually intended as a portrait of present-day human populations on Earth, but rather the fictional humans that invade the alien moon of Pandora in James Cameron’s much-anticipated blockbuster sequel: “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

When Cameron released the first Avatar movie in 2009, it claimed the number one film spot for seven consecutive weeks, and after making nearly $3 billion worldwide, went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time. 

Over a decade later, fans and film critics alike are hyped about the latest addition to the sci-fi series, which like its predecessor, boasts record-breaking cinematography and an enchanting plot that immerses viewers in another culture, world and way of life entirely.

Avatar 2 continues the main storyline of the bioluminescent world of Pandora, where the indigenous Na’vi tribe of blue-skinned highly-evolved creatures live harmoniously with nature, but whose livelihoods are jeopardised when their world is invaded by human “sky people.” This oppressive alien human species wishes to colonise Pandora, exploit its rich biodiversity, and try to use their advanced military technology to mine and poach the rare resources and wildlife that exist there for their own gain. 

Throughout both Avatar movies, viewers experience the world of Pandora through the lens of the Na’vi people; they feel their innate bond with the environment, witness how their world’s ecosystems thrive through maintaining the equilibrium between elements, flora and fauna, and relate to the struggles faced when a new hostile species threatens their existence and tries to exploit their natural world. 

On Pandora, everything is connected, and much like the first movie, Avatar 2 has a continuous thread of environmental activism throughout. The film captivates audiences with beautiful imagery and an engaging story, whilst conveying an important message about the dualities between industry, technology, past, future, people and nature, serving as a protest against many urgent, important, and difficult topics in parallel. 

Director James Cameron hopes the eco-conscious message woven into Avatar will inspire people to apply Pandora’s principles to life on Earth, protect our one and only planet, and spark environmental, conservational, and climate change conversations on activism. 

Avatar inspires activism

The first movie focused on the displacement of Pandora’s indigenous Na’vi forest tribes as they faced conflict and colonisation from alien humans who invaded their world and began cutting down their trees in order to mine the rare mineral deposits there known as “unobtanium.” 

As its title suggests, the second Avatar movie shifts focus onto another of Pandora’s vital ecosystems, the ocean, where the human “sky people” begin exploiting ocean biodiversity and poaching the local wildlife there for the valuable natural materials they possess.

Cameron has revealed he will continue to make sequels within the Avatar franchise as long as there is demand, and has hinted that subsequent movies will explore a spectrum of different ecosystems, cultures and concepts.

Throughout the entirety of the movies’ narrative, imagery, and storyline, the environmental message of Avatar is apparent, and Cameron has admitted he hopes that this second instalment, which explores Pandora’s coastlines and the endangered alien species that live there, will inspire people and spark interest in ocean conservation.

“Maybe a movie like this can make people feel connected to the ocean, and maybe that makes them think a little bit. I’m not saying just send 10 bucks to Greenpeace. I’m talking about how we can work together to conserve this wonderful, beautiful, amazing thing that we have right here on planet Earth,” says Cameron. 

Aside from the obvious plotline that pits the environment against unsustainable human greed, there are many other subtler nuances of eco-consciousness and activism throughout the movies.

For one, the Na’vi tribes live simplistically, sustainably, and in accordance with nature, honouring its seasons and natural cycles. They have a deep connection with the environment, and respect the treasures their world bestows on them, only consuming minimally and when necessary, and ensuring that the flow of energy and natural order is maintained in everything they do. 

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This environmental message is reinforced even further as we see Pandora’s environment, flora and fauna existing and functioning as one, with great emphasis on how maintaining the balance of natural infrastructure allows all creatures to thrive collectively. We see threads of this sentiment in the first movie when the oppressive humans damage Pandora’s forests and destabilise the entire ecosystem in the area as a result. 

Poaching also features heavily in the second movie, where “whalers” hunt and kill sea creatures known as “tulkans” for a lucrative liquid extract they possess that prevents aging.

The humans seek this rare material to fund their colonisation campaigns, which also brings to light the strong political and anti-imperialistic undertones Cameron is trying to convey through the lens of Pandora.  

There is also a commentary on migration, as the main Na’vi family in the second movie are displaced from their forest home and tribe as a result of conflict, seeking refuge on the coast with the Metkayina reef people. The Na’vi refugee family are not initially accepted, with the children being bullied for their mixed lineage (human and Na’vi).

Sustainability is a prominent plotline throughout the movie, but also off-screen in Cameron’s directing, shooting and production of the movie.

On set sustainability

The production of the first Avatar film was famously expensive, but pales in comparison to the sequel which stacked up to a total cost of $350 million. Despite the enormous amount of capital required to shoot the CGI-heavy movie, director James Cameron – being a vegan himself – was committed to ensuring the production was carried out as sustainably as possible, only allowing vegan food as part of the on-set catering, and designing eco-friendly set infrastructure in accordance with his own environmental values. 

The Avatar team also partnered with Mercedes-Benz to design a new concept car inspired by the world of Pandora to promote the movie’s message on sustainability and innovation.

Cameron’s values are also reflected in the level of intricacy illustrated in the geography, culture and biodiversity of the world of Pandora, both on the big screen, in the script, and off the screen as well in the Na’vi language and lore he’s created. He even went as far as to hire experts to create a Na’vi sign language accompaniment. 

The franchise’s efforts to promote civil activism are being recognised by moviegoers, non-profits and activists alike, as “Avatar: The Way of Water” has been awarded the “Voices For The Earth” Award jointly from the Advanced Imaging Society and earthday.org, as well as the “Green Seal” for sustainable production from the Environmental Media Association

Avatar has also won many awards for its groundbreaking CGI and invention of new visual effects technologies. However, though he may be a pioneer of cinematography, constantly seeking out new angles, ideas, concepts and graphics technologies, James Cameron is no newcomer to activism. 

We’re now eight billion people. When I was born, we were three billion people. Now, it’s eight billion people. We have to change how we operate,” says Cameron.

James Cameron’s climate commitment

When Cameron took the script to 20th Century Fox Studios, they were immediately taken with the sci-fi marvel he presented them with, making only one conditional request: remove the hippie “tree-hugging” undercurrents and we’ll be good to go. 

“No, because that’s why I’m making the film,” said Cameron. 

Throughout his life, Cameron has shown commitment to the conservation of the environment, specifically the ocean (a common theme in many of his movies; e.g. Titanic) due to his lifelong love for diving. 

He has manifested his environmental advocacy by penning a multitude of activist op-eds, promoting a climate-friendly lifestyle, and has made many documentaries, collaborating with the BBC, National Geographic, and OceanX, to name a few. In much of his work Cameron endeavours to highlight the beauty of the ocean depths as well as the various threats they and the planet’s coral reefs face in the wake of the climate crisis. 

Not only that, but Cameron has also produced many documentaries to raise awareness for other important environmental and world issues such as poaching, deforestation, and climate-friendly diets.  

Most notably his “Years of Living Dangerously” series which received worldwide recognition.

He has collaborated with many high-profile individuals and celebrities to raise awareness for climate change and environmentalism. 

Alongside his equally climate-conscious wife, Suzy Amis Cameron, he has even opened his own organic farm in New Zealand and developed a new online platform to help children connect better with their teachers during the various Covid-19 lockdowns.

Suzy is also an author, active climate advocate and founder of the organisation Red Carpet Green Dress, an NGO working to spotlight sustainable fashion on the Oscars’ red carpet.

Together, James Cameron, his wife, and his many collaborators and supporters are raising their voices in the name of the environment, the climate, and those worst affected by its impacts, Avatar is really just an action-packed eye-candy proxy to spread the message further, even to those who aren’t looking for it but can make a real change by joining the fight. 

An environmental message from Pandora

Avatar is just a movie, but its core message transcends the big screen, as Cameron says, the movie “rekindles in us an awareness of our innate connection to nature, and to each other, which is primordial… when we see it on the screen, it awakens something in us.”

On Avatar’s Pandora, everything is connected, and director James Cameron hopes his futuristic yet relatable sci-fi masterpiece will help enlighten his audience to consider the ecosystems, flora and fauna on Earth in the same way. 

“We have to forge a path forward where we listen to the Indigenous wisdom-keepers and rebalance ourselves with nature, and not go fully down the rabbit hole of advanced technology, but at the same time not lose what we’ve created, not lose this zenith of science and understanding of the natural world that we’ve managed to extract. So what does a balanced human future look like?” says Cameron

In the first film, Princess Neytiri of the Na’vi Omaticaya clan warns the humans who are colonising, exploiting and destroying her world’s biodiversity by saying “Sky people cannot learn, you do not see.” 

Let’s not fulfil this fictional but very possible prophecy, and let’s begin to see the reality of the future world that lies ahead of us if we do not collectively commit to change, today.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Screenshot from “Avatar: The Way of Water” Official Movie Trailer. Featured Photo Credit: Avatar: The Way of Water/James Cameron/20th Century Studios

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