So I watched the blockbuster film “Avatar for the second time tonight with my parents. Obviously there are many racial/cultural issues to upack with the movie, but for this post I wanted to focus on one thing: Neytiri’s hair.
Neytiri, the main female lead in Avatar, played by Zoe Saldana is the N’avi warrior-princess love interest of main character Jake Sully. For those that have not seen the movie, the N’avi are a tribe of 10 ft tall, blue colored humanoids that inhabit the moon-planet Pandora in the year 2154. Humans have traveled to Pandora from their barren Earth to mine an ore called “unobtainium” (+2 points for subtlety there) that is worth 20 million dollars a kilo. Too bad the blue people refuse to cooperate. So the humans have to bring in the big guns.
The N’avi people are uber-naturalists, living in harmony with their utopian Pandoran environment around them and worship an Earth goddess called Eywah. The females of the tribe are warriors as well, and fight side by side with the males when the time comes to confront the humans, or, “skywalkers”.
I mean the representations are clear though. Blue N’avi people of Pandora = perceptions of colonized brown/black people of Earth.
Okay back to Neytiri. For most of the movie, she rocks braided hair. Braids are obviously worn by many black/African women. It is an “ethnic” hairstyle.
I noticed Neytiri in braids for most of the movie. For a good part of the film, she was either fighting or teaching Jake about the N’avi people. She had a decidedly masculine role in educating Jake in the beginning and fighting alongside him later in the movie.
Howevever there are some moments where she is more feminine. I noticed during the traditional ceremonies she wore her hair like this:
A follower on twitter mentioned to me that Neytiri wore her hair loose during the love scene between her and Jake. I can’t remember that scene specifically. Anyway, some may not understand why hair is an issue, but to those women in the African/African American community, hair is a BIG DEAL. Many black women feel societal pressure to straighten their naturally curly hair, in order to conform to a white/caucasian standard of beauty. Even the N’avi men wore braided hair.
In Avatar, braided hair = masculine, warrior. Loose, straight hair = feminine, pretty, a touch of passivity.
I don’t expect James Cameron or the boy’s club at 20th Century Fox to understand the subtle societal message that is being sent about beauty aesthetics in Avatar. I get that. But I can’t deny there is a message being sent about the the relationship between the hairstyles of ethnic women and the way the hairstyles are perceived by males of white society.
(Full disclosure: I proudly wear my hair natural. Afros, twists, braids, the whole shebang!)