Culture Within Avatar: The Way of Water

Is this movie cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation?


After waiting basically my whole life for the new Avatar movie, the second the new one came out I felt like I was the first to watch the movie. From the CGI to the action and to the whole culture from both communities is what made the movie worth the wait for me. Avatar: The Way of Water is one of those movies that made me feel every emotion and I never found myself getting bored of it. After every movie, I am the type to do immediate research of the cast and other reviews of the movie. When I searched up the title, there was immediate controversy over cultures that were taken for inspiration. The biggest question for James Cameron, the director of both Avatar movies and the overall production of the movie was: Is this movie cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation?

What is the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation?

When it comes to cultures, there is a very fine line between actually wanting to understand that culture with an open mind and using certain cultures for their own personal interest. Taking part in a culture without fully understanding what the culture is truly about can be very harmful, especially to one’s part of that culture. The biggest argument still remains if James Cameron studied different cultures with an open mind or stole their traditions for the purpose of making a good movie.

The culture within Avatar: The Way of Water 

When Jake, Neytiri and their children arrive at the water tribe it was very obvious about their differences especially when it comes to the way they live. From the clothing to the food and even the color of their skin is what created the idea of different cultures from the same people. James Cameron took inspiration from the Māori people. Māori people are known for their facial tattoos Tā moko which hold a great meaning and an even greater history. Tā moko is like a language to the Māori people and also represents power within their community. When we see the Metkayina tribe in the new Avatar movie, the most obvious elements within the community are the facial tattoos they had as well as the movements and dances they’d make. Obviously, the Metkayina tribe was heavily inspired from the Māori people. There were very contrasting views and opinions from both passionate viewers and people who are Māori and different indigenous tribes. The fluctuating opinion on how the movie was made and what it represents kept making an uproar through the movie. As much as I enjoyed the movie and the culture within it, I realized that the opinions of the Māori people should be heavily taken into consideration and that myself and others that are not part of those cultures shouldn’t have much of an opinion. 

My personal views on the movie

There is no doubt that the movie is good. The statistics and reviews are making it evident that Avatar: TWOW is a must watch. I think it is important to have movies highlight cultures like this movie did because it got people talking about the Māori culture like never before. I always find myself appreciating works of art. Whether it’s on a piece of paper, a canvas, or a screen, the thought of the work put into each piece is beautiful to me. Avatar: TWOW is one of many pieces that took my breath away and I am trying my best to stay patient for the upcoming Avatar movies.