Friday, January 29, 2010
Dear Mr. Cameron: An Open Letter from Dawnland
If this were a movie review, I could marvel that your Avatar has managed to unsettle the Vatican by suggesting that Nature replace divinity. I could concede that veterans decry Avatar as anti-American and anti-military. And I might even chime in with writers who groan at the well-worn trope of colonial hero going Native (even genetically) and saving the endangered “noble savages” a la Dances with Wolves, Emerald Forest, or Dune. But, that’s all been said.
I’m writing to ask you for money.
In an interview, you agree that Avatar critiques colonialism and the colonial impact on the global community, particularly indigenous peoples and their languages. You say that your film is a call for responsibility in stewardship of this planet.
You should have been with me last night in Portland as I attended the screening of Language Keepers, a film from the Documenting Endangered Languages Program. The documentation took place at the Passamaquoddy communities of Pleasant Point and Indian Township (Maine), and Tobique First Nation Reserve (New Brunswick, Canada). You wouldn’t have missed the irony.
You've had enough money to hire linguist Paul Frommer to create the Na’vi language and pay coaches to teach the actors. Na’vi looks as though it might take off as the next Klingon, a dialect for hardcore fans. Meanwhile, Passamaquoddy people struggle to keep food on the table, raise money and publish a dictionary while still dreaming of a language immersion school. You don't need to go to Pandora to find cultures struggling to stay alive.
About Avatar’s Na’vi language, Frommer said "I was surprised they [the actors] all did very well, and it gave me hope, too, that other people will try to learn it and speak it. I'm excited because there is going be a Pandora-pedia online and a lot of material for people to learn more about the planet. There's this incredible devotion to detail. It's been fascinating to me. It's almost academic in its approach."
Mr. Cameron, you said, “We know the ecology and composition of the atmosphere, the geography and species of plants, the culture and the history of the Na’vi people.”
What about the Native peoples of your own planet that you purport to steward?
You also said, “Look, right now is a special time because we can basically do anything we imagine. I mean you have to work hard at it, and you’ve got to have the technique and you have to be willing to throw money at the problem.“ Yes, you meant filmmaking. But, Mr. Cameron, singlehandedly, you could fund a Passamaquoddy language immersion school in Dawnland, in perpetuity.
Do that, and then you’ll be speaking the right language.