Regarding Mel Gibson's new film "Apocalypto"
03 Dec 2006 22:07 GMT
New film premiered in Oklahoma Mel Gibson's latest movie epic premieres in Oklahoma. This is not a review of the film, but a thoughtful essay about its topic, the culture of the Maya of Central America, and a call to look beyond the film's limited perspective. The author is a Quapaw/Cherokee who founded the Eagle and Condor Indigenous Peoples' Alliance and lives in Tallequah, Oklahoma. Some Maya people are not happy with this film and are concerned about how the film, which depicts the Maya as blood-thirsty primitives, impact their work, their lives, their image. The movie, "Apolcalypto" (according to the NY Post, a movie about human sacrifice among the ancient Maya), is about to premiere tonight at Chickasaw Nation's River Wind Casino amidst Hollywood-style hoopla. Oklahoma Indian actors have been wooed by Mel Gibson and are about to make a big splash on the big screen with potential for even bigger and better roles for Natives in film. I understand Gibson's claim that the movie is about a society's excesses and the costs of war (the movie has also been billed as an anti-war film). I can stand with him on those aspects. But what message is "Apocalypto" really sending about Native peoples of Mexico and Central America? This is but one thing we Indian people in the North must consider and question before we jump on Gibson's bandwagon. I have been to Central America. I have visited the Maya in their homes where I saw mountains of beautiful fruits and vegetables being grown, not for the Mayas' consumption, but for export, most likely to the U.S. The Maya could not eat those fruits of their labor. They cannot afford to. In the village I visited, the Maya shared a communal kitchen where most days the women cooked meals of beans and tortillas because that is what the family's hard labor in the fields afford them. I heard the cries of women whose husbands had been "disappeared" and murdered by government troops or by paramilitaries. In Guatemala they are struggling to recover after almost 40 years of civil war incited by the 1954 U.S. CIA overthrow of a democratic government subsequently wiping from the face of the earth 140 Mayan villages. The Maya fled to bordering countries and some were held in death camps for removal, much like our own ancestors' Trails of Tears. This is contemporary history! Today! Intertwined with our own! No, the extreme impoverished lives most Mayans live are not due to the "excesses of their ancestors," as stated in an ABC segment with Mel Gibson about "Apocalypto," but rather to the same institutionalized racism of church, military, and government, which could not even recognize our own Indian ancestors as human, justifying their wholesale slaughter, Christian conversion via boarding schools, and the taking of our lands. Before we rush to pat Gibson on the back we should understand that the same religious, government, military, and corporate institutions who systematically conspired to take our lands and destroy our culture here in the North, also have had a hand in the demise of the ancient and contemporary Maya people. When the Spaniards invaded Central America in the 16th century, ancient Maya texts were burned so that the people would forget their history and a new history, more palatable to Europeans, could replace it. Because my community work gives me the opportunity to occasionally network with Indigenous peoples from below the imposed U.S. border with Mexico, I have been made aware that some Maya people are not happy with this film. This pretty much answers the question why Mr. Gibson chose to hire North American Indians, making it necessary to teach them a Mayan language, when if the film was thought to be welcomed by the Maya, he could have hired Maya people since the film was made in their territories. As with our own struggles here in the North, Indigenous peoples in Mexico, Central, and South America are still struggling to regain their languages, cultures, and to protect and maintain their lands. How will a film, which depicts the Maya as blood-thirsty primitives, impact their work, their lives, their image, our perception of them? What impacts will that portrayal have on the people in power who have an obligation to make policy for the Maya in Mexico or Guatemala, or elsewhere in Central America, where most policy is implemented at the business end of a gun? So, because we have a genetic, cultural, and historical relationship with all the peoples of Turtle Island, we have an obligation to view this film with discerning eyes and a critical mind. Since the movie is done and will premiere nationally next Friday, we can use this as an opportunity for consciousness-raising and education about our commonalities with the Indigenous peoples from below the border. For instance, do you know that in some of those countries Indigenous peoples comprise 40-80% of the population? In the case of the Maya, a lot if not most, speak Maya as their first language. The women still dress in the traditional huipil. In Chiapas, where the Maya communities are occupied by the Mexican government (with aid from the U.S.), a large part of the region's resources are sucked out from under the Mayas' feet to generate electrical power for the rest of the country while the Chiapas Maya live without running water or electricity. The atrocities against the Maya are not of their own making. Christian conversion is not the cure (also implied by the ABC piece), for if that were true their struggle would not be ongoing today since they have been invaded by missionaries for 500+ years. We should remember, if we haven't already recognized, that some of the Brown people coming across the lower border as "illegals" are probably Maya as well as descendants of other Native Nations. To justify atrocities against Native peoples, (and to manipulate the citizenry into looking the other way) the elite have historically sought ways to portray us as less than human. The Mayan peoples of Central America are still caught in the cross-fires of war as are many Indigenous communities throughout "Latin America." Please take this occasion to research the School of the Americas where torture was (is) taught to Latin American military (and others from around the world) and carried out against Indigenous peoples such as the Maya. It will profoundly affect you. Let's make this an opportunity to learn more about contemporary Mayan struggles as well as the current struggles of Indian communities throughout the Americas. They are among the thousands of Indigenous peoples who are going to the international community to seek redress for their grievances. As we watch this new movie we are obligated to do so with an informed mind. Our history is the Mayan history.