Our parallels with Pandora

The meaning behind James Cameron’s sci-fi allegory


Rommel Salazar

A Maori exhibit at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Aleina Tuufuli, Staff Writer

LOS ALAMITOS, CA – “Avatar: The Way of Water” has become the 6th highest-grossing film of all time a month after its release. The previous film, “Avatar,” became the highest-grossing film only 41 days after its release, replacing “Titanic,” so the sequel’s success is not a shock. But what is shocking is the number of real-world issues highlighted in these films.

The science fiction franchise created by James Cameron follows Jake Sully and his journey in the world of Pandora. In the first film we see the Omatikaya clan fight for their home in the rain forest against the Skypeople, who seek a new home and use Pandora’s natural resources for their own benefit. 

“Avatar very pointedly made reference to the colonial period in the Americas, with all its conflict and bloodshed between the military aggressors from Europe and the indigenous peoples. Europe equals Earth. The native Americans are the Na’vi. It’s not meant to be subtle,” Cameron said.

“The film metaphorically tells a true story about how imperial cultures have spread around the world, destroying indigenous societies and biological diversity everywhere they prevail, which has been almost everywhere,” said Bron Taylor, a professor of religion and nature at the University of Florida. 

Tied into the theme of imperialism, the first film also shows the importance of protecting Pandora’s ecosystems and biodiversity. The deforestation that occurs in Avatar is an allegory of how taking advantage of natural resources is detrimental to the environment. 

The most recent film in the franchise pulls away from deforestation as the Sully family moves to live with the Metkayina clan and shifts to highlight whaling. 

The flora and fauna within the world of Pandora has proved to be an essential part to the two films. The nature of Pandora holds great significance to the Na’vi and their culture. Tulkuns – the equivalent of Earth’s whales – are very important to the Metkayina clan and their spiritual connections. 

“There are pantheistic themes in which the entire world is perceived to be deeply interconnected and even divine,” Taylor said.

Similar to the Na’vi’s connection to Tulkuns, Native Hawaiian cultures share a similar connection with whales. According to their culture, whales are ancient beings treated as family or personal gods. 

The decisions made by James Cameron in the movie series so far show our actions as humans from a different perspective and their negative impact. Cameron has done more than create a fictional franchise with unique scenery and a gripping story; he has used his creative liberty to reflect history.