Editorial / Mel Gibson's Apocalypto

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto

11 December 2006 People & Interviews 26

As fellow gringos, we are more than a little abashed by Mel Gibson’s latest film, Apocalypto. We have spent the last few years studying Mayan and Mexican history (perhaps more than most gringos study their own history), but it would have taken Mel’s people only a few days to learn that his movie’s portrayal of 16th century Yucatan Mayan culture is, frankly, stupid.

Let’s say the Mexican film industry, which has produced a large and interesting filmography over the years, occasionally released a period drama depicting historic events in the United States with the same cavalier approach. Let’s say the Mexicans didn’t give a tapir’s ass how they portrayed U.S. history as long as the film “stayed true to their vision” and made a buck.

They could do an American Revolution film. The main character, of course, would be George Washington, a swashbuckling Scott with a thick accent who leads the rebellious Swedes to defend Minneapolis against an oppressive society of Quakers. Side plots would include the invention of braille by a blind Thomas Jefferson and the development of a secret nuclear weapon by a bohemian Benjamin Franklin whose preference for absinth leads him to write Song of Myself, the new National Anthem.

We have a feeling that most U.S. citizens might be a tad put out, perhaps even miffed. Heck, there would probably be disparaging editorials in all the major papers and a congressman or two calling for trade sanctions. Certainly, Bill O’Reilly would have something insightful to say about it.

Meanwhile, here in Yucatan, there is a teenage Mayan girl who will not speak the Yucatec Mayan language with her parents because it makes her feel like a hick. When Apocalypto is released, she will see it at the mall with all of her friends, who feel the same way. They will witness the “evil” culture of their ancestors on the big screen for the first time. How will that make them feel, we wonder? Ignorant? Confused?


Dios bo’otik, Mr. Gibson.

For further reading:

Apocalypto Tortures the Facts, Expert Say – National Geographic

Passion of the Maya – Times Union

Apocalypto Does Disservice to its Subject – San Francisco Chronicle

Is Apocalypto Pornography? – Archaeology Institute of America

Maya in the Thunderdome – Salon.com

Whose Apocalypto? – New America Media

Apocalypto is Upon Us – Indian Country Today


  • Nilsa Delgado 13 years ago

    I understand why people would get offended by this film. If I were to look at it from a depiction of a culture's historical background, yes I would be offended. Film is art. Not everyone that attempts to make a film based on historical truth is going to make it 100% accurate. Not even our history books are 100% accurate, not even the bible. You cannot critisize this man so harshly for trying. It was a movie. I was entertained by it and thought that it was well made regardless of its inaccurate portrayal. People aren't going to go by this film to study Mayan history. Relax, folks.

  • kathy 13 years ago

    Oh No. I heard about this movie via my only source for news, Chicago Public Radio's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" and assumed it was a joke. I had no idea this was a real movie. Color me speechless.

    Now I have too many archives to catch up on.

    Is Bush still president (she asks hopefully)? Did maybe Cheney shoot him?

  • Lex Luger 13 years ago

    Glad Bill O'Reilly stopped by. He can always manage to boil down unnecessary facts and meaning into a nice steaming brown nugget thats ready for easy chewing.

    Before you accuse me of being a liberal Jared, you should know I didn't agree with Braveheart and that film's treatment of history. The movie didn't even touch on William Wallace's WASP history. It didn't even mention his achievements at middle linebacker during his four years at Amherst College, I mean c'mon Mel.

    I do agree with Gibson about civilization going down the crapper. 'Apocalypto' is an excellent example. Not for Gibson's heroic stance on the downfall of a made-up civilization, but for the throngs of moist heads who make excuses to justify their ignorance of history and just about everything else that they're too lazy to understand.

  • Emiline 13 years ago

    I was looking forward to seeing this movie. For ages I've been hoping somebody would make use of CGI to recreate a living Mesoamerican city in a movie: it would be visually amazing.

    I was so disappointed about the way Apocalypto looked, but I was even more disappointed by the moral messages. I have read articles suggesting that Mel Gibson's intentions were honorable (and I was expecting 'good' things) but I all I got out of the movie was:

    1. The Mayans were evil savages
    2. It's good that the Spaniards showed up to Catholicize the Mayans

    To me it seemed like Gibson chose the Mayans because he needed a civilization that was in 'decline' so that it would fit in with his opening quote by Durant (see Jared's comment above). If he'd chosen the Aztecs, the quote wouldn't work because their empire was flourishing when the Spaniards arrived. Also, I reckon more people know about the Spaniards' interactions with the Aztecs, and he wouldn't have been able to get away with ending the movie without the Spaniards acting like evil savages themselves, pillaging Tenochtitlan and killing a hell of a lot of people to boot (which they did all over the Americas really).

    Instead Gibson decided to falsify history and extend the period of Mayan 'city' civilization (as opposed the the more rural cultures that continued to exist and still exist) and its decline so that it coincided with the arrival of the Spaniards. He also made the culture out to be more bloodthirsty than it is generally believed to have been (e.g. he suggested that mass sacrifice was normal amongst the Maya) and that the people were superstitious and ignorant, when in fact they were great astrologers, artisans and mathematicians who wouldn't have been surprised by a solar eclipse. This is very dishonest storytelling.

    In response to Jared's question as to why nobody complained about the historical inaccuracies in Braveheart and the Patriot: (a) that's not true, plenty of people have commented on them - just search the web - but you have come to a site called 'Yucatan Living', not 'Scottish Living' or 'North American Living'; (b) the Mayans are a minority culture who have been pretty seriously oppressed over the years (and continue to be discriminated against) and rebuttal is difficult if you don't have a computer, money or political influence.

    Thank you

  • Achilles L. Stand 13 years ago

    This movie was interesting and entertaining, meant for someone with a strong digestive system and with a handy "grain of salt". This movie is pure fiction based on facts and expressed in a personal matter thats meant to make a person shack thier head. Which is does!
    I swear that the Maya people were already in non-existance, with the Aztecs as the prime social society. Wasn't it them that was brought to the end by the visiting of the Spanish along with the germs and viruses which also was brought by them! Then with all the gold and gems taken by the spanish!! It was an entertaining movie that is purely fiction and not tied to facts other than the ruins and the location of the film itself.

  • Matthew 13 years ago

    Mel Gibson has, for some time now, adopted an egoistic role of self-consumed sadist, so his latest 'offering' is no surprise to those who recognize the insanity that has sequestered this man.

    Any enlightened human being would expect nothing less than this latest unadulterated recklessness from a person who was driven by that same disease to reduce the story about one of our greatest spiritual masters into cinematic butchery.

    Some will feign to interpret Mel Gibson’s work as "art"; yet true art comes from the soul, from inner Being. What Mel Gibson proffers his audience could never have emanated from the light of Being. His work is psychotic fantasy created by mind-ego for ego’s temporary ‘pleasure’ of creating fear and suffering in the minds of its beholders. It has no true place in art, or history.

    In the space of Being, where true art is felt and known, this film would not be a ‘curiosity’; it would not be a spectacle. It would just be, and promptly dissolve, for it holds no value other than that which an ego affords it.

  • Working Gringos 13 years ago

    Great suggestion, CasiYucateco. We liked it so much that we ran out to our favorite English-language bookstore in Merida (www.amazon.com) and bought one as a Christmas present for ourselves. Thanks!

  • CasiYucateco 13 years ago

    oh oh oh ...! sorta off topic, but for anyone interested in reading about Mexico and the way centuries old history informs daily life, see if you can find a copy of Isabella Tree's "Sliced Iguana."

    It is one of the best accounts of Mexico in all its many flavors, forms and histories as I have read. Not a dull scholastic book, it is lively, interesting, fun to read.

    Here are a few copies: http://www.campusi.com/bookFind/asp/bookFindPriceLst.asp?prodId=024114051X

    One review: "In Sliced Iguana acclaimed travel writer Isabella Tree sets out to put the record straight. Embarking on a series of journeys to different corners of the country, she experiences the many different faces of the patchwork: eating Castañeda's famous peyote cactus with the Huichol people, visiting the rebellious Indians of Chiapas, and then partying in a region which stands against the overbearing Latin machismo--Juchitán, where over two thirds of the men are transvestites.

    Tree writes with an impressive erudition about the conquistadors and the indigenous peoples whose lives they shattered forever. She has a connoisseur's eye for colonial architecture, and her observations are often perceptive and thought-provoking. Although the dialogue between herself and the people she meets is a little thin, her writing is sharp and illuminating, and this is likely to be among the best travel books published this year. --Toby Green"

  • Working Gringos 13 years ago

    Good idea. We wish more people would read about the history and culture of mesoamerica, then maybe they would demand more from their, uh, "entertainment".

    There are two types of Maya in Apocalypto, neither of which existed in Yucatan during the Spanish conquest. There are the primitive natives, patterned after Amazonian tribes, and there are the "Hollywood" Maya, a formula derived from accounts of the Aztecs at Tenochtitlan by Cortes, Diaz, and others (who weren't without their political motives and cultural prejudices).

    We'd also encourage people to read the Aztec point of view (not just the Spaniards'), some of which is recounted in The Lienzo de Tlaxcala. If you want the Mayan point of view, come to Yucatan and ask them.

    Our point is that more than a few facts were fumbled. Gibson's treatment is just silly. The most annoying thing about Apolcalypto is that the history of mesoamerica, the Spanish conquest and the Maya is so much more interesting (and instructive) than Hollywood formulas or Gibson's fantasies.

    We grew up watching westerns, where "the only good injun is a dead injun" and all injuns were the same. Hollywood outgrew that formula for Native Americans living within U.S. borders, in part because audiences outgrew it.

    Maybe Hollywood's treatment of mesoamerican history will change after Kevin Costner produces "Dances with Iguanas". ;)

  • mel s 13 years ago

    Some of the facts were fumbled in the movie, but you know what ? it's a adventure movie set in meso-america, not a documentary about the mayan people. this film was made for the market. as for as a movie, it was very amusing. How violent were the Mayans ? Who wasn't in that era. The journals of Bernal Diaz, " the conquest of Mexico " gives us an idea about the mayans and the Conquistadores in Mexico and cuba.

  • Khaki Scott 13 years ago

    I think I'll keep my money in my pocket on this one. Getting kinda tired of "made for the movies" history. I am a French Creole from Louisiana and not a week goes by that I don't have to explain, regardless of what someone has seen in the movies, why I am not a Cajun and that there are over 50 different categories of Creoles in our state. I'm tired of "made for the movies" history.

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