Science Fiction Film & Television

Staying with the paradox of Avatar

Decolonising science/fiction

Science Fiction Film & Television (2019), 12, (2), 225–240.


In this article I cast a second glance at James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) as a phenomenon worth examining in the wider context of ecological sf, and argue that it is best understood in terms of paradox. On the levels of both narrative and medium, specific hierarchical binaries are both delineated in the film, and such delineations are unconsciously undermined: between the technological and the organic, Western science and indigenous animism, Western technology and shamanic practice. I propose that the undermining of these binaries functions as a decolonising gesture, by which I mean putting into question the colonising hierarchy between what has been legitimised as proper science and what dismissed as indigenous superstition. Such decolonisation of the historical epistemologies is of key importance in rethinking political ecology between humans and non-humans, but also between various humans in contemporary planetary politics. I propose that in approaching critically popular ecological sf, we can ‘stay with the paradox’ and in this way decolonise science/fiction.

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Author details

Cettl, Franciska