Avatar : Should Brazil Ban the Film?

The Brazilian government bears some resemblance to Avatar's corporate raiders. Its plans to sell off the mighty river to the highest bidder will result in drastic disruptions of cultures and livelihoods of thousands.
03/23/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

China has pulled the 2D version of the blockbuster hit, Avatar, from the big screen in what is being billed as cinematic protectionism -- reportedly, to keep its theaters focused on showing a new state-sponsored biopic about Confucius. But many believe there is another side to the story.

Avatar depicts a tribal people on the planet of Pandora, who are brutally displaced by uncaring corporate Earthlings hell-bent on taking their natural resources. The topic of forced eviction has sparked a rising tide of anger among China's citizens. A blogger for The Atlantic writes:

Avatar's resonance with Chinese audiences also may have prompted government intervention. In the film, humans attempt to conquer the alien-inhabited world of Pandora, which contains a mineral that the Earth desperately needs. Many Chinese citizens see a close parallel to their own lives, as urban developments and projects such as the Three Gorges Dam force them off their land. Perhaps the government is worried that the ensuing violence on-screen may incite violence off-screen as well.

Avatar is probably the closest that mainstream audiences will ever come to seeing forcible displacement up close and personal. The movie's stunning special effects put viewers right in the fanciful rainforest with the tall, blue Na'vi people as they go about their business unaware of their coming fate, and later, as they lay their bodies on the line as the space-age "bulldozers" crash through their forest home. The movie does a good job of revealing the many reasons the Na'vi cannot abide being moved from the land of their Home Tree, which is also the home of their ancestors back to time immemorial.

What came to mind as I watched the film wasn't China, but Brazil. The Na'vi live in a glorious tropical rainforest that is reminiscent of the biodiversity-rich Amazon, and the on-screen people's ties to their homeland is as respectful and culturally unique as that of the real tribal peoples who call our planet's greatest rainforest home. Sadly, the threats to the Amazon are real: more than 100 large dams are planned for the basin, which also faces logging, mining, and clearing for agriculture.

The Brazilian government bears some resemblance to the movie's corporate raiders. Its plans to sell off the mighty river to the highest bidder will result in forced evictions and drastic disruptions of cultures and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. The Amazon is as threatened as the Na'vi's land, and many Amazonian tribes have made it clear they will fight for their homelands.

It's probably a good thing for Lula's government that most Amazonian tribal people can't just run down to the corner multiplex to catch this flick; it might unleash a flood the government just can't dam.