James Cameron visits proposed Belo Monte dam site

James Cameron is funneling some of his energies into a new role: that of environmentalist and indigenous rights advocate. But he’s finding that this can be tricky territory for a blockbuster director.

Nikolas Kozloff, the author of No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010), writes at the rainforest conservation website Mongabay about Cameron’s recent forays into the activist realm:

To his credit, Cameron has sought to address not only fictional struggles in the virtual world but also the real-life plight of indigenous peoples fighting to preserve their ancestral lands from hydropower development. Recently, the Hollywood director toured the Brazilian rainforest in association with Amazon Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based NGO [nongovernment organization] which is performing valuable environmental work in South America.

After meeting with the Kayapo Indians, “real life Na’vi,” as Cameron put it, the director got inspired and has been campaigning for indigenous peoples. Cameron says the Belo Monte boondoggle dam planned for the Amazon is a “quintessential example of the type of thing we are showing in Avatar—the collision of a technological civilization’s vision for progress at the expense of the natural world and the cultures of the indigenous people that live there.”

On a tear in New York, he spoke before a United Nations committee on aboriginal rights and even launched an environmental scholarship at Brooklyn Tech high school. Not content to stop there, he updated the Avatar website to keep fans informed about environmental issues and sponsored the planting of a million trees around the world as part of Earth Day.

Kozloff writes that “Cameron has done more than many other Hollywood directors to bring environmentalism into the mainstream.” This is certainly a more charitable view of the director than many on the left seem to hold. Critical theory heavyweight Slavoj Zizek, for example, recently raked Cameron over the coals in Britain’s New Statesman in a commentary that purported to expose the “brutal racist undertones” lurking under the director’s “superficial Hollywood Marxism.”

Zizek might have been impressed (OK, probably not) to see Cameron checking his allegedly Amazon-sized ego and addressing this sort of critique head-on during his New York tour. Cameron spoke on a panel about indigenous issues at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan, and Kozloff notes on Mongabay that the director deferred to indigenous representatives in answering many questions.

A smart move, given the climate observed by New York City’s Indypendent newspaper:

5/19/2010 3:03:57 PM

If Cameron were really concerned about the lives of indigenous peoples, he could do something incredibly effective right now: vow to live on a middle-class salary, and donate the remainder of his income to a number of indigenous communities. These communities don't need another Sting, they need jobs and money for community projects. Cameron's millions could go a very long way towards this.

Ralph Marshall
5/14/2010 11:15:54 AM

White messiahs are necessary. Women did not give themselves the right to vote, men did. African American slaves did not free themselves, whites did. When we view living as a 'me different from you' perspective, we see white messiahs. (We also see 'me taking from you, what are you going to do about it'). When we view living from a 'me equal to you' perspective, then we are all messiahs, simply without color. We are also living with a larger purpose of creating a world of peace and diversity and not simply gathering a pile of wealth to ourselves alone that now we have to guard day and night.

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