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Friday, January 15, 2010

Pat Robertson Haiti comments: French view theory with disbelief

Pat Robertson Haiti comments: French view theory with disbelief

Pat Robertson calls quake 'blessing in disguise' APPat Robertson calls quake 'blessing in disguise'
US evangelist's Haiti comment 'utterly stupid': White House AFP/Getty Images/File – The White House on Thursday dismissed a comment by evangelical preacher Pat Robertson that Haiti's …

Paris – It took about five nanoseconds for evangelical Pat Robertson’s video verdict on the causes of the Haiti earthquake to start making the rounds in France.

Mr. Robertson’s theory that Haitian slaves made a “pact with the devil” 200 years ago in order to free themselves from the hated clutches of Napoleon Bonaparte's regime – resulting in a curse that led to the destruction of much of Port-au-Prince and a massive loss of life in Tuesday's earthquake – got the usual chuckles of disbelief among local intelligentsia about American culture.

It was bad enough that he said the successful slave revolt came during the reign of "Napoleon III, or whatever" (the Haitian Revolution led by Francois-Dominique Toussaint L'ouverture was in fact completed in 1804 when Napoleon Bonaparte ruled France, 44 years before his nephew Napoleon III came to power). But here in Haiti’s former colonial master, talk about the Robertson “theory” clouds with myth an early if awkward chapter in self-determination: the Haitian slaves are considered the first to collectively and successfully overthrow their colonial masters. In this case, the French.

After the French revolution, in 1794, the 500,000 slaves brought from Africa to work Haiti's lucrative sugar and coffee plantations, were freed by decree. But Napoleon Bonaparte, seeking empire, wealth, and territory, tried re-enslave them in 1802.

Once slaves breathed the free air, they did not wish to return to their former status as drones or fodder for empire. Toussaint L'ouverture, a house slave whose father came from Africa, and whose master, Count de Breda, educated him – stepped up. Mr. L'ouverture’s reading of French enlightenment and revolutionary writers Mirabeau and Voltaire is thought to have been extensive. The slave revolt itself took place in the name of the values and ideals of the French revolution in many readings of history here.

Haiti had been “a hell on earth” for the slaves, writes Le Monde’s history specialist, Jerome Gautheret. “Each year, 50,000 slaves were brought to Haiti to compensate for the … terrible mortality among the slaves. In such a fragile society, order could only be precarious, based on terror and violence: the French Revolution shook it in an irreversible way. In Paris, while ‘Friends of the Blacks’ pled for civil equality for all free men and gradual emancipation of the slaves, a powerful colonial party [in Haiti] tried to maintain the status quo.”

Quoted Thursday on, UCLA anthropologist Andrew Apter says the notion of a “pact with the devil” as behind the slave victory “is so absurd it is almost funny. This notion of a pact with the devil is basically an echo of an old colonial response to the successes of the 1790s Haitian revolution.”

The problem for Haiti is that if it was a hell on earth under slavery, it was also so after the slave revolt, French historians argue. Africans plucked and sent to Haiti to work under the lash and suddenly freed were not a model constituency for civil society. Haiti went from the largest sugar exporter in the world to chaos. “The plantations were deserted. The former slaves refused to work on the places they were enslaved,” Mr. Apter said.

An emerging understanding of Haiti during this time is of an island increasingly divided between the 30,000 to 40,000 mixed race former slaves, and the more recently arrived slaves from Africa.

UCLA’s Apter argues, “the reason Haiti is poor is because Europe imposed a blockade on trade after the slave revolt in 1804, and you have an extremely polarized class structure in which a few families stepped into the positions of the former colonial plantation owners. There has been a horrible cycle of plundering and autocracy within Haitian leadership.”

Follow the Global News Blog for updates on Haiti throughout the day.

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Information Researched By: Sister Anonymous

Monday, January 11, 2010

Some see racist theme in alien adventure 'Avatar'

Some see racist theme in alien adventure 'Avatar' (AP)

FILE - In this file film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, the character Neytiri, voiced by Zoe Saldana, right, and the character Jake, voiced by Sam Worthington are shown in a scene from, 'Avatar.' 'Avatar' remains the top box-office draw in the U.S. for the fourth straight weekend with $48.5 million. (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, File) NO SALES

- Near the end of the hit film "Avatar," the villain snarls at the hero, "How does it feel to betray your own race?" Both men are white — although the hero is inhabiting a blue-skinned, 9-foot-tall, long-tailed alien.

Strange as it may seem for a film that pits greedy, immoral humans against noble denizens of a faraway moon, "Avatar" is being criticized by a small but vocal group of people who allege it contains racist themes — the white hero once again saving the primitive natives.

Since the film opened to widespread critical acclaim three weeks ago, hundreds of blog posts, newspaper articles, tweets and YouTube videos have said things such as the film is "a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people" and that it reinforces "the white Messiah fable."

The film's writer and director, James Cameron, says the real theme is about respecting others' differences.

In the film (read no further if you don't want the plot spoiled for you) a white, paralyzed Marine, Jake Sully, is mentally linked to an alien's body and set loose on the planet Pandora. His mission: persuade the mystic, nature-loving Na'vi to make way for humans to mine their land for unobtanium, worth $20 million per kilo back home.

Like Kevin Costner in "Dances with Wolves" and Tom Cruise in "The Last Samurai" or as far back as Jimmy Stewart in the 1950 Western "Broken Arrow," Sully soon switches sides. He falls in love with the Na'vi princess and leads the bird-riding, bow-and-arrow-shooting aliens to victory over the white men's spaceships and mega-robots.

Adding to the racial dynamic is that the main Na'vi characters are played by actors of color, led by a Dominican, Zoe Saldana, as the princess. The film also is an obvious metaphor for how European settlers in America wiped out the Indians.

Robinne Lee, an actress in such recent films as "Seven Pounds" and "Hotel for Dogs," said that "Avatar" was "beautiful" and that she understood the economic logic of casting a white lead if most of the audience is white.

But she said the film, which so far has the second-highest worldwide box-office gross ever, still reminded her of Hollywood's "Pocahontas" story — "the Indian woman leads the white man into the wilderness, and he learns the way of the people and becomes the savior."

"It's really upsetting in many ways," said Lee, who is black with Jamaican and Chinese ancestry. "It would be nice if we could save ourselves."

Annalee Newitz, editor-in-chief of the sci-fi Web site , likened "Avatar" to the recent film "District 9," in which a white man accidentally becomes an alien and then helps save them, and 1984's "Dune," in which a white man becomes an alien Messiah.

"Main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color ... (then) go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed," she wrote.

"When will whites stop making these movies and start thinking about race in a new way?" wrote Newitz, who is white.

Black film professor and author Donald Bogle said he can understand why people would be troubled by "Avatar," although he praised it as a "stunning" work.

"A segment of the audience is carrying in the back of its head some sense of movie history," said Bogle, author of "Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films."

Bogle stopped short, however, of calling the movie racist.

"It's a film with still a certain kind of distortion," he said. "It's a movie that hasn't yet freed itself of old Hollywood traditions, old formulas."

Writer/director Cameron, who is white, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that his film "asks us to open our eyes and truly see others, respecting them even though they are different, in the hope that we may find a way to prevent conflict and live more harmoniously on this world. I hardly think that is a racist message."

There are many ways to interpret the art that is "Avatar."

What does it mean that in the final, sequel-begging scene, Sully abandons his human body and transforms into one of the Na'vi for good? Is Saldana's Na'vi character the real heroine because she, not Sully, kills the arch-villain? Does it matter that many conservatives are riled by what they call liberal environmental and anti-military messages?

Is Cameron actually exposing the historical evils of white colonizers? Does the existence of an alien species expose the reality that all humans are actually one race?

"Can't people just enjoy movies any more?" a person named Michelle posted on the Web site for Essence, the magazine for black women, which had 371 comments on a story debating the issue.

Although the "Avatar" debate springs from Hollywood's historical difficulties with race, Will Smith recently saved the planet in "I Am Legend," and Denzel Washington appears ready to do the same in the forthcoming "Book of Eli."

Bogle, the film historian, said that he was glad Cameron made the film and that it made people think about race.

"Maybe there is something he does want to say and put across" about race, Bogle said. "Maybe if he had a black hero in there, that point would have been even stronger."


Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press.