Kathia Woods: Avatar, Appropriation And The Digital Lynch Mob

Kathia Woods

A Black female movie critic accused “Avatar: The Way of Water” and was subsequently subjected to racist, sexist and savage threats. Read her testimony.

I was able to catch an early screening of “Avatar: The Way of Water.” When I left, I thought the latest iteration of the blockbuster franchise was a good movie, but there were two prevailing thoughts that dominated my mind. First of all, I thought it was at least an hour or so too long. Secondly, I felt like I was seeing overt representations of Indigenous, African and Polynesians in the Na’vi (aka the Blue People). Actually, I knew that’s what I was seeing. Cultural appropriation accusations have dogged James Cameron’s and the Avatar franchise since the original in 2009

My friend and colleague Kathia Woods, a journalist and professional critic, saw tweeted the following:

“At some point we gotta talk about the cultural appropriation of Avatar and white actors cosplaying as poc. It’s just a mess and so not necessary & no amount of visual effects/CGI is gonna erase that. Bad Lace fronts/Dry synthetic braids. Jesus fix it.”

When I saw it I liked/retweeted/paused scrolling and, otherwise co-signed what she had said. Almost immediately, she was was met with a contingency that felt the need to threaten, bully and act subhuman in response to a social media post they didn’t agree with. It was necessary to speak to the Philly-bred scribe, who is a decorated writer with Cup of Soul, The Philadelphia Tribune, cinéSPEAK, NBC and others.

AllHipHop: What did you think when you saw “Avatar: The Way Of The Water”?

Kathia Woods: I thought the picture was technically brilliant, but the plot felt a bit dull and repetitious compared to the last.

AllHipHop: What compelled you to send that now-infamous tweet that called the movie out for cultural appropriation?

Kathia Woods: I constantly send tweets in response to movies. I’ve been harsher on other films, but this one felt whitewashed and still had the white savior storyline despite being inspired by so much native and indigenous culture. Cameron has stated on numerous occasions that he was inspired to write the story after visiting the Amazon. Furthermore, he made some extremely insensitive remarks about the state of Native Americans, specifically the Lakota tribe. Skully also integrated into the Na’vi tribe, but it came across as him teaching them how to embrace and survive their culture rather than the other way around.

Yes, there were actors of color cast, but Zoey’s role was reduced, and Kate [Winslet] played an indigenous queen. There was the possibility of hiring an indigenous or native actress. Yes, I am aware that they are fictitious characters, but the clothing, weapons, ceremonies, and so on were inspired by indigenous and native culture. If moviegoers come to see the greatness that is Avatar rather than the actors, why not hire someone from that background?

AllHipHop: You received a lot of hatred and contempt from the online peanut gallery. Are you safe?

Kathia Woods: It’s unsettling to see people wishing you death and to be sexually assaulted over an opinion. Being called a B [b####] and C, another word for v#####, and, of course, the N-word is what I sadly expected when YouTubers who claim to be anti-Hollywood and wokeness began making videos and stealing my Instagram pictures. I’ve kept everything in a folder in case someone does decide to cross the line, but for the time being, I don’t believe my life is in danger.

AllHipHop: What I find to be weird is how easy it would be before people to either ignore the tweet and simply carry on or allow it to be a teachable moment. But that is not what happened. 

Kathia Woods: In our country, there is a culture war going on. You have a population that is predominantly male and white and does not approve of someone like me having a platform. They dislike the fact that our country is becoming more diverse; they believe racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination are fabricated.

People are literally making fake accounts in order to troll me. Even though my Twitter account is locked, these same people are attempting to follow me. They are irritated because I refuse to open my comments. Why would you want to be in my mentions or follow me if you don’t agree with what I said? It’s strange, but I’m supposed to be the crazy one. It’s also Christmas week, and instead of preparing for the holidays, they’re doing this. It’s beyond sad.

AllHipHop: Now, the tweet struck a chord with over 500 likes and over 3,000 retweets, but it also got you a lot of media coverage. It seems like they went through great lengths to dig in your past. What does that say about the understanding of the original message?

 Kathia Woods: It was never about comprehending the message. To be clear, the news outlets that chose this are not credible. The Blaze, The Daily Mail, and Fox News are examples of tabloid media. The president of Ukraine visited the United States and addressed Congress, and Kennedy chose to discuss my tweet on Fox. That is completely insane. Several of the writers who contributed to these articles never responded and aren’t on Twitter. These were hit pieces designed to generate traffic, and if I got caught up in the process, so be it, because I’m not a person to them. I’m just something that will drive traffic to your site, which is why youtube videos full of lies are so popular.

AllHipHop: Did you want to restate anything to people about “Avatar: The Way of Water” that may have been missed or misunderstood on Twitter?

Kathia Woods: Cultural appropriation has been a problem since the first film and will continue to be a problem until it is addressed properly. I’m not the only one who said it; I’m just the one who got the most attention. Many Native American groups have said the same thing, and Newsweek published an article breaking it down. Yes, it’s science fiction, but when you sit down for an interview and say your source material was indigenous and native people, as James Cameron did in a 2009 Guardian interview, you open yourself up to criticism. In the end, I never said people shouldn’t see the film, and each person must make their own decision, but that doesn’t change the fact that a group of people’s culture was exploited, and they received no benefit while the film grossed millions of dollars.

Thank you for let me tell my side of the story

Follow Kathia on social media on Twitter and Instagram…unless you are a troll.