First I must apologize; I thought I had posted waaaaay more recently than I had. I’ve actually been planning this post for days, so I could have cut the wait awhile very easily. Anyway.
Panasonic has a new TV out called the Viera, which they are advertising in concert with the new movie Avatar. You can see one of the commercials (I think there’s more than one) here. I imagine Panasonic’s advertising group has no resident geeks with awareness of common social issues. If they did, someone would have pointed out that they were associating their TV with two media properties – Avatar and Final Fantasy XII – that have races/species that clearly stand in for Africans. Oppressed, stereotypical Africans.
Avatar sounds wonderful, and I don’t mean to suggest racism within the property itself. But you clearly have the blue-skinned natives of the world Pandora standing in for Africans during the colonial period. The humans come with their superior technology to raid Pandora (and no, I’m not even going to touch the world’s name) of her natural resources, and the natives fight back with spears and such. You could even argue that using a native woman as the romantic interest of the invader-hero replicates the sexualization of black women that goes into movies today. I don’t particularly want to, given that I haven’t yet seen the movie and many romantic interests are treated equally (if not worse – Cameron’s female characters generally rock).
Then we have Final Fantasy XII‘s Viera. Let’s see, brown skin, buxom, scantily-clad rabbit-girls… Yeah, that doesn’t replicate stereotypes of African women as sexually rapacious at all. There are, by the way, no male Viera. Presumably the females replicate asexually. If, of course, you presume the designers put any thought into it.
I don’t think Panasonic did it on purpose, but they did, in one fell swoop, tie their new product to the least-attractive aspects of two different, but wildly popular, products. It comes across badly.
The craziest part, for me at least, is that I had/have a perfectly fine view of Avatar. That is, I think you can do a story that references the complicated history between the West and Africa without being racist, I think science fiction is a good way to do that, and I think James Cameron is a skilled director who takes the time and makes the effort to present more realistic, less stereotypical characters in general. It was only when the commercial linked Avatar to the Viera of Final Fantasy XII – which I find problematic on many levels – that I even thought of race as a potential stumbling point for the film. Weird.