Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Untold Truth Of Mo'at From Avatar

"Avatar: The Way of Water" is the highly anticipated sequel to the biggest box office hit of all time, similarly written and directed by James Cameron, who initially had the concept for the series in his brain as far back as 1997, when he was making "Titanic." At the time, he put the idea on the back burner, as the technology wasn't quite ready yet for him to realize his vision.

When Cameron finally did release "Avatar" in 2009, audiences found it well worth the wait, and a spectacle like none other. Continuing to hold strong with an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, more than a decade later, sequels are finally on the way.

Much of the cast returns, including CCH Pounder as Mo'at, Neytiri's mother and spiritual leader of the Omaticaya clan. She plays a small, yet crucial role in the first film, leading to theories about the character's importance in the overall story of "Avatar."

Mo'at is the conscience of the film

"Avatar" is a film that centers around strong female characters to guide the audience. Sigourney Weaver's Grace Augustine is the lead scientist of the Na'vi, acting as a motherlike character for Jake, an alien to the world. She is able to provide insight to the audience, experiencing Pandora for the first time through Jake's eyes. 

Neytiri, meanwhile, is a strong warrior who teaches the viewer about the beauty of her planet, and how it's important to respect the forest and the creatures around Jake. Then there's Mo'at, mouthpiece for the Na'vi deity Eywa, explaining why Eywa is so important. She acts as their connection to life itself, making her importance to the Omaticaya clan perhaps unmatched.

"Avatar" encourages the audience to fall in love with Pandora. From the forest to its inhabitants, there is a prevalent notion that all life is precious, and respect must be given to the planet and the natural world. Cameron uses the Na'vi deity Eywa to further push this point. Because Mo'at is the resident Eywa expert, audiences see the true meaning of the film through her eyes. She is the guiding conscience for the story. Mo'at teaches her daughter Neytiri about the forest, who then teaches Jake, in turn teaching the viewer.

Mo'at is the one who finishes Jake's journey to becoming a true Na'vi and a full member of the clan. She is, perhaps, fulfilling this idea of a spiritual mother birthing her son. With this process complete, Jake is able to become the next ruler of the clan, as he's mated with Neytiri.

Why CCH Pounder was the best choice for Mo'at

As a spiritual leader and queen of the Omaticaya clan, the actress who brings Mo'at to life had to be someone that could embody authority. That's just what Cameron got when he cast CCH Pounder to portray Mo'at. 

From the first time that audiences see her, Mo'at is dripping with influence. The commanding presence of the veteran actor is felt from the moment her character walks down the steps, with her words ringing in the ears of the Na'vi with power. This form of control is what Pounder delivered to the role.

Pounder sat down with MovieWeb in 2010 to discuss her time filming "Avatar." She spoke of Cameron's idea on the character Mo'at, stating that since the story of "Avatar" had been in his mind for so many years, he has a clear understanding of what he's looking for in regards to the character. 

"There were certain things he was looking for when an actor would walk in the room," explained the "Shield" star. "That had a lot to do with spirituality and authority. There had to be this idea that if Eytukan ... died, the clan would simply be taken over by Mo'at. She was already 'on the page' powerful."

Pounder didn't look towards other forms of inspiration when preparing for the role; instead, she chose not to attach any "human traits [or] human errors" to the character. 

"The fact that you are creating a whole new environment, and a humanoid creature? That was left up to me, really," Pounder said f the process. "What you see is what I brought to the table, pretty much."

Why Mo'at's voice is so familiar

Cameron changed the art of filmmaking when "Avatar" debuted back in 2009. The film was shot with never-before-seen methods of green screen work, employing state-of-the-art cameras to capture their movements. In post production, their actions were then augmented with CGI, crafting the beautiful world of Pandora.

Because of such techniques, you could be forgiven for not recognizing some of the Na'vi actors; their faces might feel vaguely familiar, but it's the voices that reveal their identities. This is particularly true for Pounder, a veteran Guyanese-American actress who possesses a distinct voice, familiar from a career spanning five decades and nearly 100 movies and TV appearances. 

Pounder voiced the DC character Amanda Waller in various episodes of the critically-acclaimed animated series "Justice League Unlimited" from 2004-2006, and has reprised the role in other DC animated media. Additional voiceover work includes "Archer," "The Lion Guard" and the beloved 1995-1996 animated series "Gargoyles."

Pounder also provides voice work for video games, bringing Vree to life in "Fallout," and also lending her authoritative tones to "Skylanders" (she's the Golden Queen) and the "Batman: Arkham Origins" games as, you guessed it, Amanda Waller.

How Mo'at could play a big role in the next films

While most "Avatar: The Way of Water" plot details have been kept secret, Cameron is likely to expand on many key characters and themes from the first film. It seems logical that Mo'at could play a key part.

As the spiritual leader and direct link between the Na'vi and Eywa, it feels likely that Mo'at could hold even more significance in this film. At the end of "Avatar," Mo'at successfully channeled Jake's energy from his human body into his Avatar one. She did this by connecting directly with Eywa. And while this method was unsuccessful for Grace Augustine (as far as we know), perhaps this is something that Mo'at will do in the sequel. Otherwise, how else could so many dead characters be returning? Aside from Sigourney Weaver's character, audiences should expect to see the return of Stephen Lang's Miles Quaritch and Matt Gerald's Corporal Lyle Wainfleet as well. 

Although Cameron has been adamant that Weaver will be playing a different role in the film, it seems unlikely he would cast Weaver again in a different part, due to her being such a well-known character from the "Avatar" universe; most likely, Eywa and Mo'at must have a hand in her resurrection.

It's a shame her husband Eytukan (Wes Studi) isn't getting the same treatment, as he is not returning from the dead for "Water."

Mo'at almost didn't make it to the big screen

According to Variety, Cameron initially came up with the "Avatar" concept in 1995 while working on "Titanic." He waited a few years for the technology to catch up with his vision, and during that time, he completed the script. In 2006, once he felt ready, he brought the script to Fox and was given the green light. 

However, when it came time to pull the trigger and begin filming, Cameron was stuck between "Avatar" and another film idea he had in mind, "Alita: Battle Angel." In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Cameron discusses his struggle between picking one over the other. He recalls that he initially felt that the filming style of both would be similar, and therefore told Fox that he would do them at the same time. 

When Cameron did a test run with two actors portraying Jake and Neytiri to see how the cameras would capture their movement, seeing for the first time how the CGI environment would manifest itself, his choice became clear: It had to be "Avatar." In 2019, "Battle Angel" would hit screens with a screenplay by Cameron and Robert Rodriguez in the director's chair.

Why communing with nature was an important part of the process

The overall message behind "Avatar" is to respect the natural world. Cameron has spoken at length about his love for nature, and he uses this franchise as a cautionary tale for those who don't respect Earth, contributing to its peril via climate change and colonization (via Variety). According to him, audiences should look at the Na'vi as a guiding force on how to live in balance with their home

With this message driving the story, Cameron thought it important to have his cast interact with nature during filming — particularly since they'd spend the majority of the film acting on a set with nothing more than green screen around them.

So, Cameron brought his cast to Hawaii not only to rehearse, but to connect; the filmmaker had them build fires, cook meals, and climb mountains so that they could get into the proper mindset.

"It was great for us as an ensemble to get to know each other and be with Jim, so he could go on about all the aspects of Pandora and the story and the Na'vi people," recalled Weaver in 2019. "We traveled with a botanist who was helping me learn how to be a xenobotanist studying alien plants. Joel [David Moore] and I would go into the forest on Kauai and we would take samples of the plants. Even though they were Earth plants, we tried to learn the technique — how to protect slides in the field and take pictures. Just training ourselves to see things as botanists. I think it was invaluable."

In 2021, Cameron revealed that he had been up to his old tricks again; to prep for "Water," the filmmaker had returned to Hawaii's fourth-largest island with his cast.

"I took the actors on what I called a sense-memory odyssey. We went to Kauai. We lived in the rainforest for a few days," he explained. "We cooked in underground fire pits. We drank water from the leaves."

CCH Pounder has a hidden fear you might not expect

While CCH Pounder may have the perfect voice for her "Avatar" character, a hidden fear likely made "The Way of Water" a difficult assignment. 

It's clear from the trailer (and the film's title) that water plays an essential role in the story. Pounder, it turns out, has a fear of drowning.

In a 2010 interview with MovieWeb, Pounder explained that she first met Cameron while auditioning for his 1989 flick "The Abyss," about a team of SEALs on a mission to an underwater base. Some of the film's most memorable moments required the actors to perform long, complicated dives, and that prospect made Pounder uneasy. When Pounder and Cameron met again years later to discuss "Avatar," she was embarrassed about that earlier interaction, and the role she ultimately did not book.

"I prayed that he didn't remember me from our meeting on 'The Abyss.' I thought, "Oh, God! Don't let him remember me," she explained. "But he did. Yeah. I don't swim. I am afraid of water."

The meaning behind Mo'at

Over decades of development, it should come as no surprise that Cameron made some changes to character names along the way. 

Originally, Sigourney Weaver's character was to be called Dr. Grace Shipley (via documentary "Capturing Avatar" from the "Avatar" Blu-ray). When Cameron came to believe "Shipley" was too similar to "Ripley" (her iconic character in the "Alien" franchise), he changed it to Augustine.

Changes were also made to Mo'at. Initially, Cameron had her name as Mo'at Poatuza, which means Dreamcatcher. However, as Mo'at became more of a spiritual leader and presence of authority for the Omaticaya clan, he changed the name to just Mo'at. This removed the dream motif, so as to not confuse the message but was also a style decision, as the other Na'vi characters in "Avatar" all had one name. As a result, one-word names became a de rigueur preference for the Na'vi.

The significance of Mo'at's title

After Cameron moved away from giving Mo'at a last name, he was still determined to give her a title of significance. He looked to world religions when constructing the character. As the spiritual leader of the Omaticaya clan, Mo'at is the Na'vi people's strongest connection to Eywa, their deity.

Throughout "Avatar," Mo'at is referred to as "Tsahik." That word is her title as the spiritual leader of her clan. But the title sounds similar to the Hebrew word "tsaddik," which means righteous and is seen as an extension of God. Someone associated with the word "tsaddik" is considered to be virtuous, as the term is often applied to someone with an intimate knowledge of Biblical scriptures (via Chabad.org). Which, in the case of "Avatar," would indeed be Mo'at.

Mo'at understands the importance of Jake

Jake Sully's journey to gain the trust of the Na'vi is a long one in "Avatar." Initially, everyone looks at him with mistrust, seeing him as an alien on their planet, walking around in a fake Na'vi body. When Neytiri brings him to the Omaticaya clan, everyone looks at him as an outsider. However, thanks to a sign from Eywa, Neytiri wants her mother Mo'at to interpret his importance.

Once Mo'at takes a look at him, she tastes some of his blood. Her reaction, while subtle, is a look of surprise. Sensing that there's something special about him she decides that her daughter will train him in the ways of their clan. While everyone else wants him dead, she knows there's more.

Even after Mo'at learns that Jake betrays them, she chooses to save him and asks for his help. She knows that he's important and that he can save her clan. With her home and husband gone, Mo'at trusts Jake, even when she has every reason not to. From the moment that Neytiri brought him before her, Mo'at knew there was something special about him. And she was right.