Thursday, July 17, 2008


Seems like this is an indigenous themed week for me. Last night, for an assignment for my online IAIA course I rented and watched Apocalypto, Mel Gibson's bloody movie depicting the Mayan culture and filmed in Yucatec Maya dialect with subtitles. I'd avoided it when it first came out because I heard it was really gory, and it was during the height Gibson's anti-semitic remarks. Plus, I was busy with my freshman year of school. Having seen it now, I would say it is both better and worse than I expected.

Since I did a lot of readings about the movie for my class (I did the readings after watching the movie since I didn't want to influence my viewpoint while watching it), I am aware of the blatant historical misrepresentations. There are inconsistencies that can be read about by anthropologist Traci Arden here, or Maya art historian Andrea Stone here, or National Geographic here. But since I don't have any experience with Maya culture, I wasn't aware of these until after I'd seen the movie. No, my problems with the movie were that it took contemporary blockbuster themes and plunked them down in an "exotic" locale. My suspicions were put into words by New York Times film columnist A. O. Scott in his review. As he says, the movie is, "less interested in historical or cultural authenticity than in imposing an accessible scheme on a faraway time and place."

Of course there were also many positive reviews of the film. As a work of entertainment, it is pretty good. It wasn't as explicitly gory as I had been led to believe. There is a great deal of suspense if that is your thing. The cinematography is beautiful. And the Wikipedia article I just read had lots of quotes from people involved in the making of the film who make it clear that they were approaching it with an intent to create visual impact, not a documentary.

It seems like the movie can be approached from various perspectives with varying results. The bottom line however, is that it does contribute to the furthering of stereotypes for indigenous peoples. Some of these stereotypes may be positive and some may be negative, but the inaccuracies do nothing to enlighten the general public's misperceptions about the ancient Maya or to assist modern indigenous Americans as being seen as anything but ancient relics from another era.

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