In James Cameron's Avatar, it is explained that the whole point of the Avatar program is to make it so the humans look like the Na'vi so they will trust them. Selfridge says as much:

Look, you're supposed to be winning the hearts and minds of the natives. Isn't that the whole point of your little puppet show? If you look like them, if you talk like them, they'll trust you?

And yet we see from Jake's encounter with Neytiri and later the tribal leaders that they all instantly recognize him as one of the "Sky People" and because of that, they don't trust him.

So what is the point of having the Avatars then? If the natives know they aren't real Na'vi anyway, why not completely abandon the project and save the considerable amount of time and money by just approaching the Na'vi in their humans forms?

It can't just be about the Avatars being able to breathe the planet's atmosphere since the humans also have breathing masks. I'm sure making more efficient, less intimidating breathing masks and approaching the Na'vi wearing those is far cheaper than the Avatar program. And you don't need twin brothers if someone unexpectedly dies!

  • 56
    Grandma, what big, blue ears you have! The better to appropriate your culture with, my dear! But seriously, nothing says 'we're not that different from each other' quite the same way as wearing another person's skin as a suit does.
    – Dacio
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 3:32
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    Because the natives could just rip the suit and kill you (and trust me there's no amount of protection for that short of a mech suit) whereas an avatar dying could just result in the person awakening with a really bad case of disorientation. Plus... for plot reasons.
    – user64742
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 5:45
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    The movie premise was literally "humanity must travel 41 trillion kilometers and secure the unobtanium" so the disbelief required to think that its a good idea to fund a super expensive program of genetically engineering native-looking bodies to control telepathically is... reasonable
    – Jeff Meden
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 19:26
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    @SirAdelaide Different cultures have different things they find offensive. Some people don't like when you try to speak their language - others will find it a positive point (you're shifting the burden of communication on the interested party, i.e. yourself). There's plenty of this in diplomacy, why would wearing a different body be any different? Of course, the so-called "Western world" comes with huge historical/emotional/PC baggage as to skin tone, but that's just one of the ridiculous things we find offensive. It isn't objectively wrong to try to eliminate unnecessary differences.
    – Luaan
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 12:07
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    @SirAdelaide And of course, it's a common sci-fi trope - aliens coming to us often have human disguises, both hostile (e.g. for infiltration) and friendly (e.g. for our comfort, ease of communication etc.). It's just that in this case, we're the aliens. "Becoming one of the people" doesn't really sound disrespectful to me, but that's again subjective.
    – Luaan
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 12:16

3 Answers 3


It's not that they are trying to pretend that they are not 'sky people', it's that they are attempting to minimize the perceived differences.

Think of it like an explorer coming to a foreign country. Ones who want to be accepted and trusted adopt local customs, dress like the locals, speak the local language, interact with the locals in their own way, even if there is no chance that they would ever be mistaken for one of the locals. As well as being trusted more, they learn more. That's what is being attempted. Of course these things take time, which is why they are not trusted yet.

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    Dr Grace (Sigourney Weaver) seems to be quite accepted - I remember her being surrounded by a group of happy children. It's hard for me to imagine them reacting in similar fashion to some weirdo in heavy breathing suit.
    – Yasskier
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 2:38
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    @Yasskier some tiny weirdo in a heavy breathing suit that looks like a pale twig that will be broken if you don't handle with utmost care. Commented May 8, 2017 at 13:26
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    Besides, aren't the Na'vi like 8 feet tall or something? It would be pretty hard to converse when one party constantly has to bend over just to hear you. In any communication, you want to come off as equals. Commented May 8, 2017 at 14:30
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    @EvSunWoodard Well, it worked for Obi-Wan and the Kaminoans, but I guess the Galaxy Far, Far Away is more used to this sort of thing. Commented May 8, 2017 at 14:38
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    @Thunderforge - Kenobi also was "paying" a ton of money. You always act respectful of a client. There is no inherent respect for short invaders. Commented May 8, 2017 at 14:40

Let's say you are a human with breathing apparatus.

You will not climb those trees (lack of necessary athletic ability). You will be easy prey to the wildlife. (Easier even than your avatar.) Your face will be hidden behind a mask. You cannot eat or drink until you return to your base (which is several miles away), severely curtailing your stays with the Na'vi.

Let's say you are a human in some kind of mech suit.

You will not climb those trees, at least not without doing quite some damage (which will not make you Na'vi friends.) If your mech suit is powerful enough to protect you from predators, you will be seen as "armed" by the Na'vi. And your face will still be hidden behind a mask.

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    Your face is hidden behind a mask even with an Avatar. That mask just so happens to be another face.
    – user54588
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 9:17
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    @Mego: The movie establishes both similarity of appearance between the Avatar and its operator (although it is unclear if the Na'vi have ever seen "real" sky people en nature prior to what happens in the movie), and genuineness of facial expression. But I was mostly referring to the subconscious reaction to not seeing a face / facial expression. (Even a "real" person can fake facial expression to deceive you, but we still take that over someone wearing a mask any time.)
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 9:21

The original point of the avatars was to study the Na'vi in their natural every-day lives by living as them and integrating with them. Think Dian Fossey/Gorillas in the Mist, but with the added wrinkle of Dian being able to inhabit the body of a Gorilla. This was another fun little tongue-in-cheek reference out-of-universe, since Dian Fossey was played by Signourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist.

It was only after the discovery of the Unobtanium on Pandora that the research project was co-opted for the purposes of profit, and used to possibly convince the Na'vi to move away from the large deposits of the ore. We enter the scene well after the Na'vi have learned the true nature of the avatars and their relation to the "Sky people".

  • 3
    thinking Weaver was cast specifically for that reference is a stretch imo (unless of course you have evidence that it is more than coincidence) - Cameron was in development of the idea for decades prior to production - certainly before any casting was made
    – NKCampbell
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 21:27

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