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The Untold Truth Of Neytiri From Avatar

Without the character of Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), James Cameron's sci-fi epic "Avatar" might have been a totally different movie. For one thing, protagonist Jake Sully probably would have been killed shortly after getting separated from his research team. If she hadn't rescued him and taken him back to her village, he never would have been accepted by her people and fallen in love with them and the world of Pandora.

As stated in the film itself, Neytiri was raised to become her clan's spiritual leader. It's that connection to the beliefs and traditions which allows her to open her heart and mind to Jake, as she believes Eywa has sent her a sign that Jake's life must be spared. She is also a lethal warrior, loyal to her people, and deeply compassionate.

Although we learn a lot about her from the film itself, there are some interesting facts about the creative decisions that went into developing her character, background information about her personal life that was never specifically addressed onscreen, and some facts about her species that can be found in some tie-in material. We're going to take a look at what can be discovered by diving deep into Cameron's original notes for the film, some behind-the-scenes stories, and the comic books published by Dark Horse to get an even greater understanding of what makes Neytiri such an interesting character.

Neytiri could have looked very different

Worldbuilding was a major contributing factor to the impressive scope of "Avatar." In order to make the audience believe in the story, they first need to believe in the world of Pandora. When creating a brand new planet, there are a ton of options open to a filmmaker in bringing the native species to life. You can save money by going the "Star Trek" route and designing most of your aliens as humanoids with pointy ears or ridges on the forehead, or you can go for something totally alien.

Writer-director James Cameron and his team worked diligently to create the look of the Na'vi people. As seen in the documentary "Capturing Avatar," getting the Na'vi right took a lot of trial and error. Cameron always knew he wanted the aliens to be blue, but the features took a bit more time to discover. "We initially started out with kind of more amphibian-like and reptilian kind of forms," he explained.

The design team inevitably reasoned that the audience shouldn't be repulsed or afraid of the aliens, because this is a love story. "We have to find ways of pushing away from human, but in a way that people would not find off-putting, and in fact might find to be kind of quite beautiful," Cameron said. "I wanted people to say, 'I want to be one of them.'"

Na'vi physiology is cooler than you think

Prior to writing the script for "Avatar," James Cameron created a detailed document breaking down the world, plot, and characters — something he refers to as a scriptment. It's packed with fascinating information regarding the movie's lore, including how space travel works, the horrendous conditions on Earth, and the culture of the Na'vi themselves. Although the final film does an excellent job of making sure we understand the differences between human and Na'vi biology, there were two factoids included in the scriptment that are worth a look.

Cameron writes in the scriptment about the "complex pattern of iridescent dots and lines, perfectly symmetrical" that "runs over the body." The dots themselves are nothing new, but how they function is. Cameron explains, "The alien can communicate with these, and in fact, they usually are shifting and changing color to indicate mood and emotion, without conscious control."

We also learn something about Na'vi hair that might have been changed during the course of development. The scriptment assures us that their bodies are entirely hairless. In fact, the black hair-like strands coming from their heads is "actually an external part of their nervous system." We know they use tendrils in their hair to connect with nature and each other, but the movie certainly makes it look like the hair is protecting the nervous system rather than being part of it. Still, no one in the film explains what the hair is, so the scriptment could still be accurate.

Zuleika Te Polenoma

According to the scriptment, Neytiri's original name was Zuleika Te Polenoma. For the most part, the name change seems to be the only difference between this early incarnation of the character and the one we saw in the film. However, we get a bit more insight into her motivations and what the life of her clan is like.

In the film, Neytiri belongs to the Omaticaya Clan. According to the "Avatar" wiki, this translates from Na'vi to "Blue Flute Clan." This translation is present in the scriptment, but they are instead called Tsumongwi. The document also states that their clan is nomadic, and they stay at a location for a time before moving on to allow the forest to heal from their stay there. When they move is decided on by the clan's leaders. The movie implies they've been living under the hometree for centuries.

In the scriptment, Zuleika is excited by Eywa's message to keep Jake (originally named Josh) alive. In the film, Neytiri brings him to her village begrudgingly — she really doesn't like him. This earlier version is secretly fascinated by him. Yes, she finds him annoying, but deep down she is as interested in him as he is in her. She just hides it better.

Neytiri had a sister

Grace (Sigourney Weaver) explains in the film that Neytiri is going to become the next Tsahik (spiritual leader) of her clan after her mother Mo'at. Tsu'tey will be the next clan leader (Olo'eyktan) after her father Eytukan. This means that Neytiri and Tsu'tey are betrothed to one another. We see the friction this causes in the movie when Jake Sully arrives and Neytiri shows signs of affection for him.

In the comic mini-series "Avatar: Tsu'tey's Path" by Sherri L. Smith and Jan Duursema, we learn that his relationship with Neytiri is kind of complicated. The comic book retells the events of the film from Tsu'tey's perspective. While Neytiri is getting to know Jake, Tsu'tey is training the next batch of Omaticaya warriors, struggling to maintain control while grieving for his lost love, Neytiri's sister Sylwanin.

Years prior to the events of the movie, Psu'tey and Sylwanin fell in love. The comic explains that "betrothed" and "beloved" are not the same thing. Neytiri is Psu'tey's betrothed, but Sylwanin was his beloved. She was killed in a confrontation with the sky people and Psu'tey has never been able to forgive them. However, when he died and was sent to be with his ancestors, he reunited with his beloved once again.

Neytiri kept the peace

The climax of "Avatar" sees Jake and Neytiri traveling across Pandora to meet with the various other clans in hope of convincing them to rise up against the sky people. "We rode out to the four winds," Jake says, "to the horse clans of the plain, to the Ikran people of the Eastern sea. When Toruk Makto called them, they came." While it makes for a rousing montage and a thrilling battle, it comes at a cost.

In the comic mini-series "Avatar: The Next Shadow" written by Jeremy Barlow and Gui Balbi, Neytiri is sent out to meet with the other clans. There were a lot of Na'vi lives lost that day, and the clans who agreed to help were understandably upset by this. So it was up to Neytiri to ride out and speak with them, thanking them for what they've sacrificed. Unfortunately, the series literally begins with her leaving and ends with her return. This means we don't get to see much of her mission, but it's still a nice bit of characterization to see that she is respected enough to be trusted to keep relations between the clans civil.