Nicole ZummachI’m probably the last person on the planet to see James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster, Avatar, though I’m sure I won’t be the last to write about it. (A quick Google search for “avatar review” returned 204 million results.) I won’t delve into its technological achievements, its cinematic virtues, or my personal views on Eywa. Evidently, there are a couple hundred million other people who already did that. So why compete?


Which brings me to the point I do want to make. Avatar presents a world in which humans are driven by their pursuit of wealth and prosperity, at any cost. In other words, the way Cameron sees it, by the year 2154 we will still be operating much as we do today. In fact, his vision of our future interplanetary exploits looks a lot like what is currently going on in the Alberta tar sands, complete with gigantic machines able to crush anything in their path.

A glimpse of our future?

But what about our imagined descendents, the people driving these machines? The head corporate bad guy experiences a twinge of hesitation when it is revealed that his company’s actions will destroy lives. But then, as he puts it, “that’s the way it’s done,” and he’ll allow nothing to get in the way of that. It’s a scene that is all too familiar in our society. And yet it persists…apparently well into the future if Cameron is correct.

By the end of the movie, it’s clear that doing business at any cost is insanity. It’s not sustainable, it’s not ethical, and it’s certainly not humane. This is the core message of Avatar, in my opinion. Sure, there’s a love story, and a hero’s journey, and a wonderland of fantastical images that do not fail to impress. But once the initial wow factor wears off, people are left with an image of the devastation that corporate greed can bring, the destruction that follows from a loss of humanity.

Inspiring social change

There is no denying that James Cameron’s story strikes a chord with people. To date, it has brought in more than $2 billion worldwide. Calling it a phenomenon is probably an understatement. But it also has the potential to inspire social change. Avatar is a call to action. If we don’t turn things around as a society, as a species, we’re going to become more and more removed from our own humanity.

The good news is that Cameron gives us someplace to start – the corporate world. And who better to lead the charge than social entrepreneurs and those who are already invested in social enterprises? Again and again, they present business models that are successful without being destructive, that raise people up instead of pushing them aside.

So go and see Avatar if you haven’t already. (It’s definitely worth viewing on the big screen and 3D is a must.) People are going to be talking about it for years to come and you’ll want to be part of the discussion. One of those conversations just might change everything.

Nicole Zummach is the co-founder of SEE Change Magazine. She has worked in the publishing industry for more than two decades, and has spent most of her career researching and writing about civil society and the nonprofit sector. Contact her at

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