Robinne Lee, a black actress who appeared opposite Will Smith in the film "Seven Pounds," likened "Avatar" to Pocahontas.
"The Indian woman leads the white man into the wilderness, and he learns the way of the people and becomes the savior," she said. "It's really upsetting in many ways. It would be nice if we could save ourselves."
Conservative columnist David Brooks wrote in The New York Times: "Avatar is a racial fantasy par excellence. ... It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that non-whites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades.
"It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism," he wrote. "Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration."
Travis Kavulla, an African studies scholar, argues that the movie's depiction of Na'vi as helpless victims gives a false sense that natives are always in harmony with nature.
"When you have this complete alien species presented as a kind of Hollywood ethics embodiment, I don't find it credible," Kavulla said. "There's this romantic notion of nature. ... It's just ridiculous to think that most indigenous people are kind of hunter-gatherers who don't impact their environment."
Cameron strongly denied any racist intent and said in an e-mail to the AP that his film "asks us to open our eyes and truly see others, respecting them even though they are different, in the hope that we may find a way to prevent conflict and live more harmoniously on this world. I hardly think that is a racist message."
Meanwhile, conservatives are also finding fault with the film.
"I wasn't infuriated by 'Avatar.' I was infuriated by the way it framed the culture-war debate ... as if there are no secular people on the right," Jonah Goldbert, editor-at-large of the National Review, said.
Another conservative writer called it anti-war.
"'Avatar' is a thinly disguised, heavy-handed and simplistic sci-fi fantasy/allegory critical of America from our founding straight through to the Iraq War," conservative movie critic John Nolte wrote. "It looks like a big-budget animated film with a garish color palette right off a hippie's tie-dye shirt."
John Podhoretz, writing a critique for the Weekly Standard, went so far as to call the movie "anti-American."
"The conclusion does ask the audience to root for the defeat of American soldiers at the hands of an insurgency," he wrote. "So it is a deep expression of anti-Americanism -- kind of."
Cameron defended the movie's point of view. In an interview with NBC's "Today Show," he said "Avatar" shows how greed and imperialism tend to destroy the environment, in this case the "pristine" environs of Pandora. "It's a way of looking back at ourselves from this other world, seeing what we're doing here," he said.
Even viewers who use wheelchairs had something to say about "Avatar." Most applauded the film's main character, Jake Sully, a Marine who is injured and becomes paraplegic. But some pointed out inaccuracies between the film and real life.
"As a person with a spinal cord injury, you kind of notice a few things that are out of whack," said Phil Klebine, a tetraplegic who has paralysis in his arms and legs but is able to use a wheelchair.