Channeling Avatar

Atossa Soltani/Amazon Watch
James Cameron met with an elder of the Xikrin Kayapo indigenous people in the Big Bend area of the Xingu river in Brazil, a region threatened by the proposed Belo Monte dam.

James Cameron, complete with orange war paint and a spear, was in the Brazilian Amazon recently, screening his movie Avatar for the region’s indigenous leaders and pledging to help them stop the government’s proposed Belo Monte dam project. The dam would flood hundreds of square miles of Amazon, dry up a 60-mile tract of the Xingu River, and displace roughly 25,000 indigenous people. The Brazilian government considers the dam necessary for the country’s economic growth; those who live along the river see it as the end of their way of life.

Desperation has led other embattled peoples to appropriate the Avatar plotline. Palestinian activists daubed themselves in blue paint—the skin color of Cameron’s aliens—to protest Israeli encroachment. Meanwhile, in the Indian state of Orissa, the powerful multinational mining company Vedanta Resources is attempting to mine bauxite from a mountain sacred to the Dongria Kondh tribe. These plans, having survived five years of litigation, are expected to be approved in a matter of months. The Dongria Kondh have also appealed to Cameron.

One can only hope that Cameron’s deep pockets and celebrity will deliver for the Dongria Kondh and the Amazonian tribes. In the meantime, Cameron can bask in the free publicity for Avatar’s inevitable sequel.