Once upon a time there was a movie.
Hundreds of millions of people around the world saw this movie. They were transported to the beautiful jungles of Pandora and introduced to the blue Na’vis and the evil RDA corporation.
Avatar (or unil-tìran-tokx in the Na’vi language) has been nominated for 9 Oscars. James Cameron, its infamous creator, has explicitly said he wants the highest grossing film in history to inspire mass environmental activism.
Fast forward to March 7. You’re watching the Oscars and Avatar wins.
What if in his acceptance speech James Cameron mentioned the real-life Indigenous Ecuadorean heroes who are battling the real-life Chevron bad guys?
Let’s make it happen.
If James Cameron called out Chevron in his Oscars speech a world transfixed by this movie phenomenon could take off the 3D glasses and step into a reality where they can make a difference.
The story of Chevron in Ecuador is no less dramatic, tragic, or inspiring than the fantasy world of Pandora.
Avatar takes place in the beautiful jungles of Pandora where communities have been living in harmony with the Earth for centuries. Much like the communities depicted on Pandora, the Indigenous communities in the Ecuadorean Amazon rainforest relied on the Earth for clean water, healthy food and cultural heritage. They understood the secrets and medicines the forests held, and how invaluable it is to protect those ecosystems.
Enter the RDA corporation on Pandora and the Chevron oil corporation in the Amazon jungles of Ecuador. RDA built an extraction base, just as Chevron (then Texaco) built the oil boom-town Lago Agrio in the 1960s. Both corporations proceeded to drill like there was no tomorrow with no regard for the health of the environment or the communities.
During decades of drilling, Chevron (then Texaco) left 17 million gallons of crude oil spills, 917 unlined crude pits, and 18 billion (with a “B”) gallons on toxic waste-water. That is about 9 gallons of toxics for every dollar Avatar (the highest grossing film in history) has made so far.
In the fantasy, the indigenous Na’vi sit on the most sought after resources on Pandora. In real life, the Ecuadorean communities once sat atop a vast deposit of highly sought after crude oil. The Indigenous communities in the region where Chevron (then Texaco) operated have lost 95% of their ancestral land due to the impact of oil operations. People are suffering from birth defects, illness, cancer, and now death.
The RDA Corporation in Avatar is a money hungry, by-all-means, at-all-costs company that will stop at nothing to get their hands on the minerals of Pandora. Chevron (then Texaco) operated on the same mandate. Both RDA Corporation and Chevron refuse to acknowledge basic human rights and use cut-and-run operations that leave communities devastated. Chevron (then Texaco) deliberately used methods that were illegal in the US, that they knew would harm people, but allowed them to save a few dollars.
Every action movie needs a villain, but not every corporation needs one. Chevron’s new CEO John Watson is not a military man in the way the Colonel Miles Quaritch is, and has the chance right now to change course, to be a different character, in this story, and right the wrongs of his predecessors. John Watson can listen to the Ecuadorean people and the global community and clean up Ecuador.
Courageous Ecuadoreans have been struggling for decades to force Chevron to clean up its toxic legacy. They are fighting for their right to drink clean water, for their families, for their communities to be restored and healed and for their cultural survival. They protest at home, travel to the US to confront Chevron CEOs and board members, and 30,000 are engaged in the largest environmental lawsuit of all time- a $27 billion liability for Chevron.
If Director James Cameron accepts an Academy Award next month, he should also let his fans know that while Pandora is fictional, what is happening to communities in Ecuador because of Chevron’s actions is as real as it gets.