Is Avatar's James Cameron A Feminist Ally?

The drumbeat is growing louder for pegging Avatar director James Cameron (and ex-husband of director Kathryn Bigelow) as a feminist. Meanwhile, men have purchased 78 percent of advance ticket sales for Avatar, opening tomorrow. Let's examine the critics' evidence.

1) Women don't take a backseat in his movies. While most action films relegate women to "handbags" or "girlfriend parts," Cameron's women characters can take central stage— starting with Sarah Connor in the Terminator movies. From The New Yorker profile of Cameron in October:

Gale Anne Hurd, Cameron's second wife, and the producer of his first three films, says that Cameron always found women more interesting than men as protagonists. "He felt that they were underutilized in sci-fi, action, and fantasy," she said. "And that just about everything you could explore in a male action hero could be explored better with a woman."

2) Not only does he like putting strong women in his movies, he has married five of them - whom he seems to stay friends with. From The New Yorker:

Wisher, Cameron's old friend, says that strong women are one of the constants in Cameron's life: "He likes to write about 'em and he likes to marry 'em. If there's one or two themes that run through his life and work, that's at the top of the list.

3) He has faith in the broader box office potential of spunky women. Rebecca Keegan, author of a Cameron biography, recounts another Hurd quote over at Vanity Fair's website:

"He was fearless in thinking a strong woman is not gonna turn the men off," his first producer and second wife, Gale Anne Hurd, told me. "Male audiences will still come. And they did."

4) Try as he might, he just can't help but make "chicks flicks," maybe because of his "feminine side." The New Yorker:

"With ‘Avatar,' I thought, Forget all these chick flicks and do a classic guys' adventure movie...Of course, the whole movie ends up being about women, how guys relate to their lovers, mothers-there's a large female presence," Cameron said. "I try to do my testosterone movie and it's a chick flick. That's how it is for me."

Avatar star Zoe Saldana told The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog, "You can tell [Cameron]'s in tune with his feminine side. I've learned this about men who write good roles for women - there's a very beautiful sentimentality to them.

So how exactly is Avatar actually about women rather than cool special effects? Says Keegan,

On Pandora, the guys may wear the sharpest looking gear...but it's clear who's really in charge. Amid a sea of hothead military types, Lost's Michelle Rodriguez is the most coolly capable as a helicopter pilot named Trudy, a smoother update of Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), the tough Latina from Aliens. Trudy's assured delivery of the line, "You're not the only one with a gun, bitch!" is this movie's "Hasta la vista, baby!" moment. Neytiri's mom, Mo'at, played by CCH Pounder of The Shield, is the shaman of her clan. And to whom does Mo'at pray? On Pandora, even God is a she, and her name is Eywa.

We'll see in the coming days and weeks if this obvious bid to get women in the theaters for Cameron's movie works. So far, advance sales have skewed even more heavily towards men than expected. So who's going to see Avatar this weekend?

James Cameron, Closet Feminist [Vanity Fair]
Man Of Extremes [The New Yorker]
Avatar Star Zoe Saldana On The State Of Women In Hollywood [WSJ]
' Avatar: Advance Ticket Sales Skewing Male [THR]