While the Na’vi franchise in James Cameron’s “Avatar” is a fictional race of peoples, Cameron drew from real Aboriginal cultures as inspiration for the 2009 film and newly released sequel “Avatar: The Way of Water.” However, as the director admitted, there was a “fine line” to walk when it came to celebrating existing cultures without appropriating them because he brought a new tribe of Na’vi to life in “Avatar 2.”
In “Waterway,” Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his family have moved to the east coast of Pandora, which is inhabited by a clan of Mytcayena coral reefs. Unlike the “Forest People” of the Sully family, the Metkayina are “People of the Sea” and have their own culture and even surprising physical differences.
In an interview with TheWrap magazine for our cover story, Cameron talks about how the diverse cast of “Water Way” — which includes Zoe Saldana, Cliff Curtis and CCC Pounder — influenced the creation of Na’vi culture.
“We try to have a diverse staff, and what’s interesting is when you put a diverse team from different backgrounds, sometimes from different language groups and different cultural backgrounds in a new culture, they educate each other and create this kind of collage speaking way,” Cameron said. For example, having Clive Curtis, a Maori from New Zealand, in the Myetkayina clan as chief of the clan, all the other cast were going to school [with] for him. When he started doing a haka, it was like, “Oh, I want to be like that.” It brought a sense of authenticity to her.”
In establishing the various Na’vi clans, Cameron discusses specific cultural influences and discussions about the appropriation that occurred.
We’ve had a lot of discussions about cultural appropriation. How much is too much? At what point are you no longer respecting and celebrating a culture, but are actually extracting and exploiting? He said. “So we tried to walk a fine line there and celebrate indigenous Polynesian culture in general, right through Hawaii, down through Tahiti and French Polynesia and Maori culture and Samoan culture and so on. And also putting our drift on it with our artists in terms of tattoo style and wardrobe and all that kind of stuff.”
While “Avatar” is a science fiction fantasy, Cameron explained the importance of rooting the characters in real-life cultures that already exist as a way to celebrate the human imagination.
“Obviously it’s supposed to be at least inspired by real things because I think you want to celebrate human ingenuity. We celebrate the imagination of nature in almost every frame in these movies, the creatures, the kind of ecosystem, the corals, the jungle, all of these things are inspired by the imagination The great evolution artists who created all these amazing things.” Cameron said. “That’s really what we’re talking about, right? But we also want to celebrate the human imagination, which has really created culture for hundreds of thousands of years.”
Watch the video above.
Avatar: The Way of Water is now showing exclusively in theaters.
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