Does Giving Sigourney Weaver’s Avatar Character a Belly Shirt Count As Female Empowerment, James Cameron?


James Cameron is renowned and heralded for filling his movies with strong female characters (Ripley, Sarah Connor, Titanic’s Rose). And Avatar is no different: Sigourney Weaver's scientist, Dr. Grace Augustine, is a hard-nosed, chain-smoking scientist, the most renowned in her field. Yeah! And yet, when she slips into her blue Pandora avatar, the latest Cameronian nod to girl power (in Weaver’s case, at least) gets a lot more iffy.

Here's how Pandora works: The male characters’ avatars are the strongest, most powerful versions of their current selves, but they share their respective human's facial structure, general build, and age. Leading man Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) blue doppelgänger can walk, run, fly, and mate — things his crippled human self is unable to do, and cowering science-geek Norm Spellman’s (Joel David Moore) avatar is a macho action man. But looking at them, you can see right away that they’re Sully and Spellman’s blue twins. But then look at the avatar for Weaver's Dr. Augustine: When we’re introduced to her, the slinky alien is wearing a belly-baring Stanford T-Shirt and sporting beaded dreadlocks, a marked difference from her usual lab coat and fine lines. So Augustine transforms from a 60-year-old scientist into a college-age Outward Bound instructor?

Weaver graduated from Stanford in 1972, so perhaps the shirt is a wink … but again, it’s a wink to a much younger Weaver. Why is Augustine the only one whose transformation involves a face-lift and seventies chic? Granted, both of the male leads are somewhere in their early thirties to begin with, and there’s no telling what Cameron would have done with an elderly male avatar. But it seems suspect that in Avatar’s female-empowerment universe (Zoe Saldana’s Na'vi character, Neytiri, is the true hero of the story), that Augustine emerges as an alien who’s 40 years younger. Is Cameron hinting that in their most idealized versions, women want to have the wisdom of a long life, but the body of a 20-year-old? We'd like to think that's a genderless issue. And for the record: We wouldn’t go running around in a belly tee, no matter what world we were living in.