When Cultural Influence Becomes Cultural Appropriation

The international film industries have created many cinematic masterpieces over time. Yet the constant using and morphing of ideas borrowed from other cultures has proven to be a controversial topic, bringing up questions of cultural appropriation.

Avatar was released in 2009 and made $2.788billion in box office since it’s release. The movie is about humans traveling to another planet to acquire the mineral unobtainium as they have exhausted their energy supply on Earth. This is done through creating an ‘avatar’ which looks just like the Na’vi living on Pandora, and controlling it by genetically matched humans, to get an insider with the Na’vi to eventually exploit them and steal their home.

The Na'vi people featured in Avatar.

The Na’vi people featured in Avatar.

This plotline evidentially has some colonialism issues to begin with. The idea and practice of entering other communities and obtaining what humans believe is rightfully theirs, is stealing. The movie further exemplifies the issue of the invaders believing that the Na’vi people needed human authority to guide them towards the ‘right’ lifestyle. The colonialism period affected many communities and the consequences are still seen in many societies today.

Colonel Quaritch is the lead officer in Avatar, running the military operations which harm the Na'vi's population and planet.

Colonel Quaritch is the lead officer in Avatar, running the military operations which harm the Na’vi’s population and planet.

Further the use of the ‘Avatars’ themselves has proven problematic. In Hindu mythology, avatars are ‘descendants’ from the Gods, who are highly evolved beings. The colour blue is used as it depicts the ‘infinite nature of Braham’ and avatars were sent to show people how to find the divinity and master self enlightenment.


Krishna the eighth reincarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu.

So through Hollywood adapting these characteristics of the Hindi religion and moulding them to fit their plot line, they have committed cultural appropriation.  This is the action of taking aspects of other cultures and religions and exhibiting them without respect or understanding for the culture which it is taken. Many Hindus were persecuted for practising their religion during colonial periods, including being forced to covert to Christianity. Hollywood repackaging and reproducing aspects of Hinduism mixed with a science fiction and  colonialist perspective, is disrespecting and trivialising the religion and the struggles followers went through in order to practice thus.

Although using aspects of other cultures in film hasn’t only been practiced in Hollywood. “Bollywood” as I’m sure you’ve all heard of, was coined for Indian films which have been found to exhibit Americanised trends.

The Three Idiots

The Three Idiots

The 2009 film “Three Idiots” has been seen to follow a plotline similar to that shown in many Hollywood comedies despite being set and made in India. The coming of age tales explores three boys as they make their way through University whilst dealing with outside pressures of love, friendship and family. The film and the Bollywood industry itself have both been huge sucesses in the International sphere and globalization can be attributed to this. The influence of American film is evident throughout Three Idiots, yet it highlights some very important social issues in India such as the intense amount of pressure put on students to perform academically.

The main difference between Avatar and Three Idiots which both were influenced outside cultures, is the way in which they exhibit these influences. Through maintaining Indian culture whilst imploring a narrative similar to many American comedy movies, Three Idiots respectfully used aspects of another culture. Whereas Avatar’s problematic cultural appropriation is seen through the evident similarities in the film to Hinduism which had been repackaged for an Alien community was disrespectful especially paired with a colonialist narrative.

One thought on “When Cultural Influence Becomes Cultural Appropriation

  1. naijacarrot

    Nice article i must say,,, but my believe is humans have a problem with the concept ‘change’ and often tends to fight that which threaten their security and personal belief!! I see no fault in these movies bt then again, i dont have eyes to see, i’m just a carrot


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