Is Avatar based on a true story? Avatar 2 has taken the world, and the box office, by storm and has quickly become one of the highest-grossing movies ever made. So, nothing new for science fiction movie legend James Cameron then.
It continues the story of Jake Sully, the Na’vi, and his family as they once again look to protect themselves, their planet, and their culture from antagonistic external forces. Like its predecessor, it’s been praised for its stunning visuals and for pushing the limits of motion capture technology.
For fans of the two epic action movies, there’s a lot to love. But what’s behind the inspiration for the movies? It’s nothing new to point out the similarities between Avatar and archetypal stories that have come before, like the Pocahontas Disney movie. Beyond that, though, is there a true story that underpins the world of Avatar?
Is Avatar based on a true story?
Yes and no. Avatar is the culmination of inspiration from a wide variety of stories from fiction and non-fiction. These span historical events, religious influences, and even one of the best Studio Ghibli movies.
When James Cameron was defending his movies from allegations that he had ‘ripped-off’ other ideas, he was entirely explicit about what Avatar is based on, and it touches on a true story of centuries gone by: the European colonisation of the American continents.
Cameron wrote “Avatar is a science fiction retelling of the history of North and South America in the early colonial period…Avatar very pointedly made reference to the colonial period in the Americas, with all its conflict and bloodshed between the military aggressors from Europe and the indigenous peoples. Europe equals Earth. The native Americans are the Na’vi. It’s not meant to be subtle.”
And Cameron was right. It isn’t subtle, which is why the allegations that the story is a beat-for-beat sci-fi remake of Pocahontas have been so hard to shake because Pocahontas is also a movie that explores the same period in history while tackling the same themes. However, any story that takes influence from the colonisation of the Americas is bound to touch on themes around resource exploitation and violent settlers, and a native people defending themselves.
Hinduism also inspired Avatar in a surprising way. The word ‘avatar’ comes from the Sanskrit language, and in the Hindu religion refers to deities and gods that can shift their consciousness into human and animal forms. See the link? On top of that, Na’vi’s iconic blue colour is also a reference to Hindu gods, which are also blue themselves.
The Japanese anime movie Princess Mononoke is also a direct influence, according to Cameron. He has said the Studio Ghibli fairytale about the spirits of the deep forest, with its environmental themes, was one of the biggest sources of inspiration for Avatar, as well as Avatar 2.
So, the world of Avatar is deeply rooted in various sources of inspiration. As it expands its own world with new sequels, it will undoubtedly grow into its own mythos and influence future stories in turn.
For more on the world of Avatar, take a look at our guide to the Avatar 3 release date, or check out our deep dive on the Avatar 2 cast. Or, if you want some clarity on the conclusion to Avatar 2, read our article on the Avatar 2 The Way of Water ending explained.