starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Winslet
screenplay by James Cameron & Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
directed by James Cameron
by Walter Chaw The discourse leading up to James Cameron's Avatar: The Way of Water (hereafter Avatar 2) has been largely about how although the first Avatar is the second-highest-grossing film of all time, it hasn't left much of a mark on popular culture. It's a take derided for the evidence of the numbers and the emergence of a theme-park attraction, though I do wonder if its cultural impact isn't like that Song of the South ride "Splash Mountain," which is only just now, finally, closing in early 2023. I don't know that the vile myth of the happy enslaved person made much of a mark on popular culture, either, insomuch as it is, itself, already and essentially popular culture. Maybe Avatar didn't make much of a "cultural impact" because it didn't introduce any new ideas into the ecosystem while profiting from a few antiquated ones. In the interim between Avatar's release in 2009 and this first of four promised sequels, a lot has changed in terms of cultural tolerances--even if, systemically, things have not only not improved but regressed. Maybe the problem with Avatar is the same one that any stories about first contact with a technologically less sophisticated alien culture share, given how our historical templates for these narratives involve genocide and the pillaging of natural resources. When a white person tells a story of a white man saving an indigenous culture from other white men, however, I start to worry about what kind of fetish is being indulged, and to what purpose/at what cost. What's not in doubt is that Avatar 2 will make bank, because whatever kink is being indulged in white-saviour narratives has proven a durable and profitable one in a white nationalist state. That's one way to look at it, anyway.