James Cameron called Avatar the Way of Water a “love letter to the ocean.” Just not our ocean.
Hey my friends and fishes, I come to you today with a video I had not anticipated having to make.
Before we get into it I wish to acknowledge the many other problematic aspects of this film and even the previous film that have been brought to my attention in regards to Indigenous peoples. I will leave additional resources in the description box down below so you may look into it further.
Welcome to Pandora...
In December of 2022 James Cameron, Jon Landau, Zoe Saldaña, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, and Stephen Lang attended a press conference for Avatar the Way of Water at Aqua Park Shinagawa in Japan in which captive dolphins preformed to loud music while clips of the movie played on a big screen in the background.
Incase you are unfamiliar with the basic plot of Avatar the Way of Water, let me fill you in...
The story is centered around the fictional planet of Pandora and it’s indigenous population of humanoids call the Na’vi and more specifically the Metkayina clan (an ocean-dwelling species with special adaptations to allow them to spend a significant amount of time in the water).
The Metkayina clan share a very profound and special bond with a whale-like species called the Tulkun.
In the film, they bring special attention to the fact that the Tulkun are sentient beings with self-awareness, complex emotions, and deep family connections - much like whales and dolphins on our planet.
Without giving anything substantial away, there is a sequence of events in the film involving hunting the Tulkun and it’s beyond tragic. I sat there in the theatre and looked around at people drying tears from their eyes. I cried too, but for what I feel like may have been a very different reason. I cried because this sort of thing happens every year on our planet and yet if it isn’t fantasy on the big screen people don’t seem to be able care.
If you are unaware, the event I am referring to is the annual dolphin hunt that takes place in Taiji, Japan. There are a lot of reasons why this hunt happens, one of them being capturing dolphins to transport to their various aquariums and aquatic attractions and/or selling them to other marine parks around the world. Believe it or not this is actually a huge industry.
“A dolphin that is not hungry will not do tricks.”
- Richard O’Barry
“I love these animals. I love their intelligence. I love their sociability, their ability to connect with us, and to interact with us, and learn from us. I'm sure everybody asked their permission to be in the show.”
You’re kidding me right? Oh but it gets better because he also adds:
“Can I come and be in the show. I wanna ride.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, Sigourney Weaver made a comment that broke my heart:
“Thank you for having us today. This was so exciting, by far the best and most amazing show with these amazing animals I've ever seen.”
The “most amazing show with these animals I’ve ever seen.” As if these aren’t complex, emotional, self-aware beings, who have been horrifically ripped from their families and the natural rhythms of the ocean to perform for their meals in concrete pools under loud speakers with no hope of freedom until they die.
Now it seems there are a few of you under the impression that James Cameron has publicly made a statement in regards to what happened, I’m referring to the article published December 19th, 2022 on yahoo!news. So let me clear a few things up for you.
This was not a actually public statement in the traditional sense. According to the article, Brian Skerry (who worked alongside James Cameron on the National Geographic series Secret of the Whales in 2021) and Louie Psihoyos (director of The Cove) received emails from James Cameron’s email address and apparently THEY were the ones who publicly shared the email (or parts of the email?) on Facebook. I personally didn’t see the post(s) on Facebook so I only know what I’ve heard from other people.
Here’s what was published in the article on yahoo!news:
“We were on a whirlwind publicity tour for Avatar: The Way of Water across multiple countries, and I was getting whisked along from one appearance or interview to another for a week straight, literally doing twenty or thirty interviews a day.”
“I got handed a schedule that showed, as my first of 6 stops of the day, a fan event at an aquarium. I was visualizing something like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, with its great science and conservation programs. There was zero mention of a dolphin show. I literally found out there was a dolphin show AS we were walking out on stage. We were already out in the lights and fans were cheering.”
"I said something snide on-mike like, 'I’m sure the dolphins were all asked for their consent to be part of the show' or something like that. I was seething. But I didn’t want to create a big public incident. Maybe I should have, in retrospect. But my instinct is always to meet people where they are. Which is the whole point of Avatar: The Way of Water. To shift consciousness.”
The argument that Avatar the Way of Water is supposed to help “shift consciousness,” as James Cameron put it, is complete garbage if the people who stared in the movie weren’t even able to comprehend the message of the film and apply it to our world.
According to the article, James Cameron blames Disney and you definitely cannot deny their involvement. Someone had to plan and schedule this event after all right?
He goes on to say:
"So, if people really want to save the dolphins, they should put down the damn tuna melt," the email continues. "In fact, stop eating fish altogether and stick to plant-based proteins, as I have for the last 10 years. I wanted you to know this was a faux pas outside my ability to foresee or prevent, and that I’m sorry about it.”
You literally asked for a ride. You didn’t NOT say it, it’s on film. I heard the words come out of YOUR MOUTH. You need to actually acknowledge this for what it is. You didn’t call some fat by accident. This was not your average “faux pas”.
You know, saying nothing was also an option right? If you really couldn’t stand up for your ideals in the moment then you could have at least SAID NOTHING.
I appreciate that Louie Psihoyos feels as though:
"People think: Oh, if I was in that position, I would do X,"
"It's a lot different in the heat of the moment when you find yourself in an uncomfortable position like that. You say stuff maybe you don't mean.”
I get that it’s possible he was simply trying to people please. He knew what would make his host feel appreciated and what would be a potential crowd pleaser to the public in attendance. After all, the people that were there were obviously in support of the event.
But this wasn’t like saying you didn’t like the soup, or someone’s shoes clash with their outfit, this was far more fundamental than that and AGAIN, YOU COULD HAVE SAID NOTHING and politely sat there, smiled, waved, and made a public statement after the fact.
From where I sit, this whole thing feels like such a missed opportunity.
If the good of our ocean and the cetaceans that live in it truly matter to you as much as you say, then you need to make this right. You can’t undo what you did, but you need to tell everyone that you were wrong in what you said and give everyone the opportunity to further educate themselves.
I would also urge you all to recognize the difference between a made-up world and the real one we all live in. Avatar is still just a movie and between all of the plastic toys, merchandise, and other collectables and paraphernalia, was it ever really about the environment?
It’s just so contradictory. One one hand you have a deep message of family connection, environmental appreciation and protection and on the other hand you have a dolphin show.
I have dedicated my life to my craft. I am an artist who creates hyper-realistic fabric mermaid tails and swims in them. It’s my greatest passion as well as my fulltime job.
I can only image if merfolk were real, in the physical sense, how absolutely enraged and disgusted they would be at what we do to our ocean and all the beings in it.
“You cannot undo the things you do; you can only make amends.”
- Richard O’Barry
It isn’t a pleasant thing to admit you are wrong or that you’ve done or said something hurtful. I know, I’ve been there many times in my life.
I believe at this point, the only way I could possibly let this go is for James Cameron and the others involved to make a public statement HIMSELF. He needs to acknowledge the mistake that was made and offer an alternative view.
Saying nothing though, or assuming that a leaked email was enough of a response, isn’t acceptable. Not when you have such a massive platform and audience who looks up to you.
⭐ Action Steps:
1. Visit Dolphin Project's website: https://www.dolphinproject.com/
2. Watch the Cove: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lv6cRk4jf8 (it is graphic, fair warning)
3. Share my video on your social media, or share a link directly to the Dolphin Project's website.
http://www.aqua-park.jp/en/aqua/index.html (the actual aquarium)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRR_59i_tFM (welcome to Pandora)
https://www.dolphinproject.com/blog/open-letter-to-james-cameron-and-avatar-crew/ (open letter)
https://ca.news.yahoo.com/james-cameron-breaks-silence-on-avatar-2-dolphin-stunt-i-was-seething-taiji-japan-052804948.html (breaks silence)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VGSvAlse5Y (Jake Sully speech)
https://www.dolphin-way.com/dolphins-the-facts/dolphin-intelligence/ (NatGeo research video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH353v7SSLo (Meet Louie Psihoyos)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFV4pRlw5Lw (Brian Skerry)
https://www.cnn.com/2022/12/22/entertainment/avatar-2-way-of-water-indigenous-boycott-cec/index.html (Indigenous peoples)
Show me that you are the merfolk I believe you all to be and let’s start making some waves.
Thank you, and happy swimming.