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Imperialism began during the 19th century as a way to expand territories and continue the Industrial Revolution. Powerful nations like the United States and Britain took over less developed areas for several reasons. This age of Imperialism shaped the current world and is the sole reason we can afford goods from all over the world today. In some places it is still prevalent today, and as such, movies and novels have been made on the event. One such movie is Avatar, made by James Cameron, beautifully illustrates the motives and effects of Imperialism through the use of film. It involves the people of Earth colonizing a planet of the Na’Vi that parallels the motives of Imperialism that happened a century ago. The motives for imperialism by European nations and the Sky people were the same. The Europeans wanted rubber, gold, and wood to fuel their industrial revolution and the Sky people wanted unobtanium to solve Earth’s energy crisis. Additionally, their racist. However, the most significant outcome of imperialism was the outcome of the people who were colonized, and it is reflected the same in history and Avatar. The indigenous people were exploited out of their land, and many were killed.
When Jake Sully is first introduced to the program, it is revealed that the main mission of colonization on the foreign planet is to harvest a resource known as unobtainium. This resource has an abundant amount of energy and can be used to solve Earth’s energy crisis, which explains why they are willing to destroy the homes of the Na’Vi people. As Jake Sully is wheeled into headquarters of the operation, he is met with Parker Selfridge, one of the head directors of the Avatar mission arguing with Dr. Augustine who is in favor of making peace with the Na’Vi, “This is why we’re here; unobtanium, because this little gray rock sells for 20 million a kilo. That’s the only reason. It’s what pays for the whole party. It’s what pays for your science” (Cameron). Additionally, a major part of European imperialism was for obtaining resources that were not available to them in the homeland. These resources included rubber, gold, copper, tin and many more which were expensive and could help continue the industrial era that the nation was undergoing.
One such continent that they extracted these resources from was Africa which was viewed as inferior similar to the Na’Vi people. As a result of the expeditions to Africa, raw materials were discovered and the leading explorer during the time, Dr. Livingstone, recorded his thoughts and reaction in his journal “Missionary Travels and Research in South Africa”, “My observations on this subject make me extremely desirous to promote the preparation of the raw materials of European manufactures in Africa”. This evidence would suggest that the desire for raw materials was, in fact, a major motive for imperialism in Avatar and European imperialism. The Sky People sought after the raw material found underneath the Na’Vi people and because this was valuable to them they tried to take over their land and the Europeans also did this to the African people with their raw materials.
The people of the imperialist nations do not feel as if the indigenous people are on the same level as the colonizers. In both European imperialism and colonization of the Na’Vi, the dominators see them as savages and therefore they have the right to kill and use force against them. They have no remorse and feel they have the right to take whatever they want. A popular belief during the time of imperialism was Social Darwinism or the belief that western civilization was far superior to other civilizations.
This came to be referred to as “The White Man’s burden” in which the Europeans saw the natives as children and uncivilized, and they felt it was their duty to educate them. The Sky People are ignorant about the culture of the Na’Vi and feel that they can destroy, kill, or take whatever they want because they are inferior. It is with this racism that they can slaughter many of the natives and burn their home and connection to the forest. Jake Sully and Dr. Augustine, after having seen the rich culture and life of the Na’Vi, recognize them as a community and not, in fact, an inferior race. However, Parker does not feel the same and only wants the resource that the planet has, “No! They’re fly-bitten savages that live in a tree. Alright, look around. I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of trees. They can move!” (Cameron). The ideas of the Europeans and the Sky People are the same, despite the natives being entirely different. The feeling of nationalism and superiority against the natives was racist and resulted in ignorance of the important culture that looked down upon. The Sky People and Europeans both had insignificant views on the indigenous people’s culture and way of life and had racist ideologies towards them. The White Man’s Burden and savage outlook against the Na’Vi are the same, which demonstrates a parallel between European imperialism and imperialism in Avatar.
The result of imperialism was beneficial for the nations who were imperialists because they received resources, land, and power, however for the natives it was oftentimes detrimental. Their culture was broken, leaders were killed, and their homes were taken away from them. This is prevalent in both histories and Avatar. When Jake accidentally reveals that the Na’Vi don’t want anything from the humans and nothing will make them move or assimilate with the Sky People, the colonel results to total war and destroying their home, “The hostiles believe that this mountain territory is protected by their… deity. And when we destroy it, we will blast a crater in their racial memory so deep, that they won’t come within 1,000 klicks of this place ever again. And that too is a fact” (Cameron). European imperialism was brutal, as they had access to full auto guns that decimated the natives when they refused to cooperate with the needs of the British. As it often is, the history of imperialism was filled with brutality and a lot of blood being spilled. The people of Canton also did not want to assimilate and chose to revolt, however, the results for them were devastating with one report of a Canton writing, “Verily, the English barbarians murder all of us that they can. They are dogs, whose desires can never be satisfied.
Therefore we need not inquire whether the peace they have now made be real or pretended. Let us all raise, arm, unite, and go against them”. This evidence demonstrates how the effects of refusing to assimilate can be devastating and the results of imperialism for the natives are always bad. The impact of the people in Avatar parallels to that of European imperialism. Superior technology devastated the native people, killing thousands of them in a single battle. When they refused to assimilate, they were met by forceful seizure of land and people.
The movie Avatar and European imperialism have many parallels which are the motive for raw materials, the use of force when natives refused to assimilate, and the impact it had on the indigenous people. Avatar was made to be an entertaining satire on European imperialism and even still the practices that continue to this day. Imperialism, despite shaping the world we know it as today, was an inhuman act made by the western nations to support their own needs and desires.
The lack of consideration towards the natives of these places resulted in the taking of their lands, resources, and lives. James Cameron’s tries to tell his audience that the way we perceive certain people shouldn’t be influenced by technology, but rather the culture. Avatar teaches that all life is precious and shouldn’t be thrown away for material resources or just because of the desires of one group of people. Because imperialism is continuing today, although it is not supposed to be, it is important to choose a leader with values that don’t support the killing of native people and the domination of the nation. Supporting leaders that have good qualities to be chosen is a good way to prevent further imperialism.
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