The Women of Avatar

by Melissa Silverstein on January 6, 2010

in Box Office,Movies

I totally LOVED Avatar.  It was a great forward thinking film with tons of passion and made me excited to be in a movie theatre.  I can’t wait to see it again (my friend and I tried several times last weekend but were sold out.)  Next time I am seeing it in 3-D.  I loved the fact that it was basically an anti-corporate movie paid for by one of the biggest corporations in the world – Fox Corp.  This kind of makes me laugh.

For those of you under a rock for the last several weeks the story is basically a revisiting of American history when the white European settlers wiped out the native Americans.  But it’s been updated to the moon Pandora and the army wants a valuable resource and they are willing to destroy the natives who are blue and huge and called Na’vi to get what they want.

The thing I love about Sci-fi is that it affords creative people like James Cameron to be forward thinking about gender.  Just like in Battlestar Galactica, gender doesn’t matter in Avatar.  There was nothing in the film that gave any indication of the bullshit gender constraints that usually populate Hollywood flicks.  The women were everywhere and they were strong, smart and bold (thank you Girls Inc.)

Let’s start with Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine.  Grace is the person who created the way to communicate with the Na’vi.  She has dedicated her life to trying to gain the Na’vi’s trust and from what I can tell she is the one who created the technology for the Avatars.

Zoe Saldana — who we never see as a human — plays Neytiri the daughter of the leaders of the Na’vi.  She is charged with showing the ropes to soldier, Jake Sully and is a kick ass warrior on her own.  She is one of the few who has tamed a mangoose (did I get that right?) and is clearly a leader among her people.

Michelle Rodriguez plays a kick ass (I know I repeated that description but it is appropriate) helicopter pilot who questions authority and will not shoot and kill just because she is told.  She sees the bigger picture and is willing to die for it.

And I can’t forget CCH Pounder as the queen Moat, Neytiri’s mother who becomes the leader after the death of her husband.

So I give props to James Cameron a man who has been married to several of the strongest women in Hollywood including Gale Ann Hurd, Kathryn Bigelow and Linda Hamilton.  While none of those marriages worked out something clearly rubbed off on him.


{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Sally January 6, 2010 at 11:26 AM

Then there’s this:

“CAMERON: Right from the beginning I said, “She’s got to have tits,” even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na’vi, aren’t placental mammals.”

In a bit of major weirdness, Cameron created a race of people who do not breast feed, yet all the babes have great tits. I suppose it would be like a woman creating a race who did not need a penis, yet they have the most beautiful ones. Oh yeah, who gets the budget for this?

sally January 6, 2010 at 11:34 AM

Then there’s this in the Playboy interview (search for it):

“CAMERON: Right from the beginning I said, “She’s got to have tits,” even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na’vi, aren’t placental mammals.”
“PLAYBOY: Are her breasts on view?
CAMERON: I came up with this free-floating, lion’s-mane-like array of feathers, and we strategically lit and angled shots to not draw attention to her breasts, but they’re right there. The animation uses a physics-based sim that takes into consideration gravity, air movement and the momentum of her hair, her top. We had a shot in which Neytiri falls into a specific position, and because she is lit by orange firelight, it lights up the nipples. That was good, except we’re going for a PG-13 rating, so we wound up having to fix it. We’ll have to put it on the special edition DVD; it will be a collector’s item. A Neytiri Playboy Centerfold would have been a good idea.”

Yeah. Create a race of people who do not breastfeed yet give the women bodacious tits. It would be like a woman director creating a race with no need for a penis, yet spending budget giving them beautiful ones. Wait. Who gets the budget for that?

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist January 6, 2010 at 11:37 AM

F–k yeah. I love this film, too! I saw it twice (both in 3-D) and plan to see it again soon, hopefully this weekend. I was very happy and well impressed with all the characterization of female characters in this film.

I love the fact that it was Neytiri, and not Jake, who took down the evil military guy in the ending and saved Jake from his death. I love the poignant, powerful scene of her holding a weak, human Jake in her arms, as he’s dying for his life. It was so powerful, seeing a large female alien holding a crippled Marine in her arms. I was blown away.

Some feminists have annoyed me, though, they claimed the scene where Neytiri found out Jake was actually an Avatar and she felt angry for having sex with him, some feminists claimed that she was being “slut-shamed” which is such f–king bullsh*t. She was angry at him for lying to her and having sex with her under misleading conditions. That’s not slut-shaming, that’s HUMAN.

Anyway I don’t know what else to say here, except to echo your enthusiasm for this film.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist January 6, 2010 at 11:39 AM


um… bodacious tits? LOL. Neytiri doesn’t even have big boobs. She’s almost flat-chested but you can still see her small breasts. I didn’t find anything sexist or degrading about it.

Next time, try to find something else more legitimate to complain and whine about.

Kim January 6, 2010 at 11:59 AM

I’m willing to believe there are good things about the movie, but white men making movies about oppressed people makes things seem wrong to me. This article explains what irked me really well.

As for Sally’s complaint – I’d be less worried about how the renderings actually ended up with the way the interviewer and James Cameron are talking. Gross and offensive.

sally January 6, 2010 at 12:18 PM

It’s pretty incredible that given you can create a race that does ANYTHING in an animated sci-fi world that Cameron creates a race whose women don’t need titties, yet they spend a lot of money and physics calculations on giving the women great titties. Weird. Why not make titties NECESSARY in your fake race?

This Cameron titty project is the biggest sci-fi boner (pun intended) since Lucas told Carrie Fisher that women don’t wear bras in space.

And while you’re at it, why not create a vibrating penis (for her pleasure)? When will female directors get the budget to create such a fake world? Awesome.

But now even animated female characters can’t miss the casting couch with their human directors.

d January 6, 2010 at 1:51 PM

Wow…I won’t repeat the spoiler, in case some skipped over it, but I’d be tempted to see it based on that moment alone, it is so rare in action films, even with women leads.

That playboy article does bring up some interesting issues. Did he really feel that way about making that moment a particular highlight in the DVD extras? Or, was he just trumping it up because he was doing a playboy interview?

Thanks for the spotlight Melissa! Definitely cements my desire to go and see it.

The only thing that weirded me out was the mention that he was married at the end of the article, and how it rubbed off on him. Maybe he chose those women because that is who he is, not the other way around. Was he even married when the first Terminator came out; because even with the long trajectory of the heroine’s growth, and the chest nudity, that role is still better than a lot of others in actions films these days? If it was reversed, and I think it was implied in one of the earlier articles about Bigelow, if they implied she was good because something rubbed off on her from Cameron, would we be ok with that?

Anemone January 6, 2010 at 2:21 PM

I haven’t seen this movie (can’t afford it), but someone elsewhere mentioned that even with all these strong women it still doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. Is this true? Cameron likes strong women but not enough to let them talk to each other? Strong women are hot versus strong women are cool?

Ann January 6, 2010 at 2:24 PM

I saw the film. It was extraordinary! Visually stunning and beautifully executed. The dialogue was cheesy, but for an action film, I thought the womens’ roles were great. I do think it’s rather ironic that James “the screamer” Cameron made a film about having respect for all living things. Anybody remember the stories coming off the set of the Titanic? The guy is an asshole (and apparently a breast man), doesn’t mean he’s not a great artist.

He helped Kathryn Bigelow years ago. He’s been publicly supportive of her current film, even though she’s in competition with him. And he’s one of the few big Hollywood male directors creating good female roles. How many guys his age do that? Seriously, cut the man some slack.

Katie January 6, 2010 at 2:47 PM

Sally I understand your perspective and the article, well response to that needs it’s own separate post.

I loved the film. It is truly a cinemetatic achievement. I think the thing I liked most is it took me into this fantasy. The special effects and computer animation are really good; the textures feel very real, and the degrees of liberty that CGI animation allows in terms of camera angles and movement is well used for dramatic effects. The luxurious vegetation of the forest and the CGI-animated wild animals are a treat to the eyes. I saw the movie in an IMAX movie with 3D glasses and it was amazing, even though quite honestly those 3D glasses are a but uncomfortable and annoying at times. But this movie visually almost made me feel I was dreaming, it was so lush. Cameron has definitely spent his time wisely creating a new universe all his own, and inventing a totally new world, one that leaves us in awe. It has to be said, Avatar is absorbing to look at.

As to the story, many say it’s the weakest part and will agree. It’s not original. It’s the same we’ve seen in Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves. But I didn’t find it terrible or cliched like others did.

And Sally in terms of the women, I thought the characters were strong females and some of the better characters for women this year for women in film. Strong, intelligent. Unfortunately there’s a reality from a marketability standpoint and women in these types of films will also have to have an attractiveness or sexiness about them and breasts are a part of that. DO I like it or agree with it, no, but I don’t find that this totally diminishes the women, especially the alien component of this film.

sally January 6, 2010 at 3:34 PM

Sure…great film, wonderful characters.

Make them “attractive.” Whatever. A marvel of animation and curious to the eye. Sure, I applaud the achievement.

But in creating a whole fake species, Cameron creates a species that doesn’t nurse and has no use for them by his admission. Yet he spends a lot of time creating perfect tits. That will have their own extras bit on the DVD since he created nipple shots (for a species that doesn’t nurse), that were too hot for the kids.

Why didn’t he create a fake species that did nurse? Did anyone mention to him that he could do this in a meeting? Just one script change. If he must haz titties?

Roxie January 6, 2010 at 3:55 PM

Anemone, this is true. They did NOT pass the Bechdel test.
I felt pretty ambivalent about the female characters in Avatar. The Na’vi, particularly. There were only two with speaking roles and when they spoke, it was bout Jake. I also did not like the patriarchal set up of the tribe and how Nytiri was pretty much betrothed to that other character who’s name I cannot remember b/c I found the plot so stinking boring.

Really. It was “Pocahontas Dances With Smurfs”

Chris Evans January 6, 2010 at 5:40 PM

Eh, Peter Jackson covered the same ground with District 9 but better.

Pupnik January 6, 2010 at 5:49 PM

When I watched the film I didn’t even think about the breasts being out of place, nothing in the film suggested that the Na’vi did not breastfeed- as I recall there was no information about how they reproduced, so I assumed they must have breast fed. I’m sure anyone sitting down to draw a female humanoid alien would also include breasts to distinguish the females from the males as it is aimed at a human audience. The breasts were also very modest and not on full display- I preferred the carefully placed feathers to if they had been wearing bikini tops and been directed to stand in sexually suggestive poses. Even the sex scene (if you can really call it that) was not in the least bit sexual. It would not have added anything to the costs of the film either as the simulations they had to put the feathers through would be the same as all the other jewellery, hair, and loose clothing would have to have gone though.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with showing breasts if it is done in the right way- most tribal societies have no issue with breasts being on display, but the way James Cameron talks about it in that interview is, I agree, pretty gross.

Elizabeth January 6, 2010 at 7:03 PM

Kim, that article hits the nail on the head with all the problematic things with this movie, which is probably part of the reason you’re hearing very few people sing the praises of the actual story as opposed to the technology.

I was ultimately disappointed by Neytiri’s story, though, because despite being kick ass it doesn’t seem to matter in her culture if you’re a woman. Her father, the leader of their group, dies and then the next guy in line (the one she was evidently betrothed to) dies, so who ends up as leader? Certainly not Neytiri, despite seeming to be just as capable as the other two. No, it’s Jake, because evidently it’s better for a white outsider to dominate an indigenus culture from the inside than to have a capable woman from that culture take the political lead. It doesn’t matter how fabulous Neytiri is, she’ll always lose out to the guy who can wow the masses by taming a giant pterodactyl.

sally January 6, 2010 at 7:57 PM

An interesting revision would be for disabled Jake to reincarnate as a pretty, smart, woman with sexy legs who marries the soon to be head of the tribe (a man, of course) and is his first lady the rest of his life. He learns to live with the limitations, much like he lived with limitations in his human form….

And Michelle Rodriguez still gets to be around.

Seriously, if a woman director had the budget of Cameron, would she choose to create a race of aliens whose men have that something organ totally contradicting the back story of the race, just for “her pleasure?” Actually I’d like to see that.

What would an animated world and race look like that a woman would create? It is interesting to me that even in fictional worlds, often women hardly cut themselves a break. Whereas, in male-created movie worlds, the shlubby guy gets his pick of women, the neurotic, flawed man gets to be the superhero, and the disabled man gets to reincarnate and run an eden world with a hot babe.

Food for thought.

I’m all for the entertainment and enjoyed Avatar myself, but Cameron’s interview with Playboy was a laugh for me as to how far a dude will go – even to break his own logic in his fake race – to create tits. Yet…he could have made it entirely logical by making the species one that actually nurses. Weird. But I would love to have that power myself. With that power, what would I allow myself or my women characters to be or play? What kind of gratuitous organs would I give my men in my Avatar world? Would I even allow myself to think that?

And if we all could be avatars, would the world be overrun with male auto-stealin’ gangleaders, rockers, and buff soldiers becoming head of tribes? Who would be the first ladies and the demure set-asides?

Milla January 7, 2010 at 12:40 AM

I’ve not seen this movie yet, I wasn’t sure that I cared to in spite my deep, nerdy love of sci-fi (plus I live in a faraway place without cinemas), because the trailer made it look a lot like a boring action film, and one with with overly simplistic plotting at that.

This article and the following conversation have made entirely change my mind and am now dying to see it. Thanks ladies!

C.K. January 7, 2010 at 8:17 AM

Glad a couple people have already mentioned the Playboy interview. And as Cameron himself explains it, the only reason the breasts aren’t featured more is because of rating worries.

I thought the story was pretty pedestrian with cliched dialogue and 2 dimensional characters. Yeah, the film *looked* good but in my opinion that’s pretty much all it had going for it. Now The Abyss, that was a cool Cameron picture.

leta January 7, 2010 at 2:39 PM

Sorry world,
us women are too busy STILL doing double-duty (career AND family) to have time to sit around and dream up fake worlds. In the real world, someone’s got to keep track of time and put food on the table and keep the house heated… and if we even find men who could help do this, or god forbid, do this for us for awhile while we birth children, we would feel so gosh-damn american guilty for not being out in the world DOING something that it wouldn’t be worth it anyway.
Nope, the real world is still very very confused surrounding almost everything: gender, race, economics, nature, technology.

All I know is, a real cool movie would be to show real life natural childbirth. You want to see a real hero? watch a woman push a baby out. But naw, you couldn’t sell that at a theater. Way better to put a hot girl hunter growling in the jungle in her mini skirt. Thats how men like to think of empowering women, instead of real world sh** like changing diapers and probably working in a non-profit trying to do something good for the world.

sally January 7, 2010 at 3:16 PM

Leta, ha! There was some recent documentary on women who are mothers who are artists. I forget the title, maybe someone else knows.

But still, if you are visiting a “women and hollywood” blog, you’ve got to be an admirer of the arts.

I think it would be revolutionary for women to tell their stories, but how much more revolutionary for women to cut themselves a break in their flights of imaginations.

I mean, even in our fantasies, too often, there is still weight anxiety, prettiness anxiety, the big-sigh that men are like the chubby useless shlubs in sitcoms and dicks in the business world, and the real world is too full of being responsible for everything. And if you are a mother, everything’s your fault.

But hey – what would it be like if we allowed ourselves power and liberation in a fully created medium like Avatar? Would we let the chubby gal find hot love and be the star? What about a scifi world where maternity wasn’t second-class? Would we even cut ourselves a break to break the rules of mundane physics and rationality like the men do? (And I’m not even talking about scifi here: come on, Vince Vaughn gets Jennifer? Come on, the Knocked Up dude really makes it with the uptight meal ticket? Come on, Robin Williams as your regular dad at his age? Or any action hero…”) But they are allowed fantasies that allow them to exhale, women are not.

Would we be even able to conceive of a world “ribbed for our pleasure?” If women think they get a shitty deal in real life, what sort of escapism do we allow ourselves? I mean I rode Cameron for spending so much time creating tits for a species he created that he admits – does not make sense for the non-nursing species. But I’d love for a woman to have that power.

Allison January 7, 2010 at 8:56 PM

That Playboy interview was really gross and offensive and Cameron should be ashamed of himself. Of course, we shouldn’t be so surprised. Terminator’s Sarah Connor and Titanic’s Rose were reguarded as liberated women, and yet Cameron made sure the audience saw their naked chests. Just goes to show you Cameron isn’t as much of a “feminist” as people give him credit.

Chris Evans January 8, 2010 at 2:20 AM

@Allison – he’a a faux feminist a la Quentin Tarantino. He likes ass-kicking women in his movies because he finds it erotic. At the end of the day it still comes back to women making someone’s dick hard unfortunately.

Chris January 8, 2010 at 1:17 PM

Irrespective of Cameron’s(or Tarantino’s for that matter) motivations for ‘ass-kicking’ women he’s created or the contradictions, TRUE LIES anyone?, rife in his material I salute the fact that his films were and are constant reminders that women deserve(d) as much serious consideration in all those post STAR WARS blockbuster leading parts as much as the guys.

He isn’t perfect but quite frankly the need for websites like this would be limited if there had been more execs, writers and directors who weren’t resistant to the idea that genre pieces (action, sci-fi etc)could be headlined by women along time ago. Not to mention he was key in getting Kathryn Bigelow the kind of big studio action projects that helped, for those paying attention at the time, eradicate the stereotypical ideas of what genres a woman director can make (and continued to help her even after they divorced).

Allison January 8, 2010 at 8:39 PM

It’s great Cameron has been supportive of his ex-wife and directed movies with strong women. But it would be even better if he didn’t objectify them. That’s why he’s a faux feminist.

Chris January 9, 2010 at 8:31 AM

He didn’t ‘objectify’ either Ripley or Sarah Connor, particularly in the 2nd film, and quite frankly as a heterosexual man I didn’t find Winslet’s or Hamilton’s (in the first Terminator movie)breasts exposed titillating and found the Jamie Lee Curtis striptease scene in TL uncomfortable (as I suspect it was meant to be) because in all those scenes I was intelligent enough to know that he wasn’t going for the cheap thrills a director like Michael Bay would have gone for it he’d been behind the camera.

Besides Cameron in interviews has never claimed to be a feminist and, in his only example of humility, once even admitted he was always surprised that people made such a big deal of his female characters as if before him women weren’t strong onscreen or in real life.

Skyler January 18, 2010 at 6:28 PM

Re:The Women of Avatar | Women & Hollywood
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Nea May 2, 2010 at 4:49 PM

I want a tattoo of the avatar woman for being so strong

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