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Race and revenge fantasies in Avatar, District 9 and Inglourious Basterds


The climaxes of Avatar, District 9 and Inglourious Basterds feature spectacularly violent, racialised revenge fantasies directed against white-male representatives of organised racial injustice. This essay argues that these fantasies draw upon a deep reservoir of popular resentment against the status quo. Yet, while the films express this resentment, they also deflect and redirect it. Comparing the different ways the films manage the spectacle of violence helps map out some of the current ideological and critical horizons of mass cinematic narrative. However, it also points to two overriding similarities: first, the strong degree to which race continues to evoke violence and to demand identification or counter-identification and, second, the films' shared reliance on the fetishistic identification of scapegoat figures. Although the films follow different strategies in order to mystify, disavow or contradict the revenge fantasies, the racialised scapegoat remains a definite centre of gravity.

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