Refined and Fly

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I guess Mel Gibson just can't get it right. After the public outcry against "Passion of the Christ" he apparently offends more folks with his latest cinematic endeavor.The following is an article critiquing Mel Gibson's new film, Apocalypto, a brutal chase action flick about a hunter gatherer, Jaguar Paw, who is hunted by bloodthirsty Mayans who make human sacrifices. Now, I just recently saw the movie and in terms of cinematic entertainment, it was very engaging and you were hanging on the edge of your seat to see what happened next. I did ask my Colombian sister Aymara what she thought about it in reference to it being offensive to the "two million Indians" and she stated that there may have been portions that were historically inaccurate so I have to further research Mayan civilization to determine the potential inaccuracies (was there widespread human sacrifice? A couple sources I briefly researched stated that there was, however, my search is definitely not complete).

In recent Mel Gibson interviews regarding the film, he makes it fairly clear that the movie is not a historical factual account, but more like an action flick set in a certain place and time. The potential danger in a film such as this and others like it is that the masses have a short collective memory, and especially when dealing with events of the past, our memories are often based on lies, media, and pop culture. Some may believe in the presentation of Mayan civilization and take it for face value, possibly perpetuating lies and falsehood, justifying the genocide of indigenous peoples. So I say, read the article, see the film, do some research on Mayan civilization, and then you be the judge.

Apocalypto: The Cinematic Logic of Genocide
by Juan Santos

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is not a mere adventure tale,
it's not just another excruciatingly brutal portrayal
of apocalyptic violence for its own sake, and the
Village Voice is dead wrong when it says that unlike
Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto
is "unburdened by nationalist or religious piety,"—
that it's "pure, amoral sensationalism."

Despite its extreme brutality Apocalypto isn't just
Gibson's latest snuff film with a religious theme. The
film is a morality play, and there are only two things
one needs to remember to get a hint of the ugly moral
intent behind Mel Gibson's depiction of the Maya.

The first is that, despite Gibson's vile portrayal of
the Maya as a macabre cult of deranged killers
straight out of Apocalypse Now!, there is no evidence
that the Mayan people ever practiced widespread human
sacrifice, and they certainly didn't target the
innocent hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists Gibson
chooses to portray as the victims of a Mayan death

Gibson knows better. He studied the terrain in depth
and had no practical limit to the funds he could
expend on research. His portrayal is a conscious lie,
one he uses to justify the premise that the Mayan city
states collapsed because they deserved to collapse,
and that they deserved to be replaced by a "superior"
culture in the genocide known as the Conquest.

"A great civilization is not conquered from without
until it has destroyed itself from within," is how
Gibson puts it. In other words the Conquest was not
genocide but a moral comeuppance; the civilization
didn't fall, in the final analysis, from climate
change or inadvertent soil depletion or even war – it
was conquered in god's wrath against the forces of
evil. And Gibson's made sure you see the ancient Maya
as a force of profound evil.

Here's a taste of the standards Gibson used in
conjuring his image of the Maya. The LA Times quotes
production designer Tom Sanders:

"We had an archeologist, Dr. Richard Hansen, onboard,"
said Sanders. "It was really fun to say, 'Is there any
proof they didn't do this?' When he said, 'There is no
proof they didn't do that,' that gives you some
license to play." And "play" they did. Rex Reed calls
the racist portrayal of the Maya Gibson's "huge cast
of spear-carriers from the Oom-Gawah-Bwana School of
Dramatic Art."

In a stunning interview with Chris Garcia of the
Austin American Statesman, Julia Guernsey, an expert
on Mayan culture at the University of Texas says of
Gibson's agenda, "'We got the Jews last time (in 'The
Passion of the Christ'), now we'll get the Maya.' And
to highlight that point there's a lot of really
offensive racial stereotyping. They're shown as these
extremely barbaric people, when in fact, the Maya were
a very sophisticated culture… I hate it. I despise it.
I think it's despicable. It's offensive to Maya
people. It's offensive to those of us who try to teach
cultural sensitivity…"

The other hint you might need to remember is this. No
matter what happens in this film, the Spanish don't
show up at the end, at the collapse of the Mayan
civilization, to "save" anything at all.

Hundreds of years would pass between the collapse of
the Mayan city states and the American Holocaust. For
the sake of empire the Spanish would sacrifice 95% of
the population in Mexico, a horror they would achieve
in a mere 100 years. Hitler's holocaust, with its 20
million dead, pales: the Conquest of the Americas by
Europe would claim 100 million lives. There is no more
savage genocide in the history of civilization.

But if you're looking for savagery, the holocaust
against the Mayan people doesn't stop there. The most
recent wave ended a mere decade ago. A quarter of a
million innocent Maya were slaughtered in Guatemala by
a death squad regime backed by the Gibson's cohorts on
the Christian Right, including Ronald Reagan and
apocalyptic fanatics like Pat Robertson and Jerry
Falwell. It's called "The Silent Holocaust" by those
who know of it.

The Maya have suffered a modern apocalypse more brutal
than anything in Gibson's sadistic imagination, more
brutal than even he would dare bring to the screen.
It's a tale he would refuse: its demons aren't
"savage" Mayans in horror movie drag, they're
Christian death squads backed by fundamentalist
leaders using old school Spanish methods. A British
anti-war organization writes:

"Working methodically across the Mayan region, the
army and its paramilitary teams, including 'civil
patrols' of forcibly conscripted local men, attacked
626 villages. Each community was rounded up, or seized
when gathered already for a celebration or a market
day. The villagers, if they didn't escape to become
hunted refugees, were then brutally murdered; others
were forced to watch, and sometimes to take part.
Buildings were vandalised and demolished, and a
'scorched earth' policy applied: the killers destroyed
crops, slaughtered livestock, fouled water supplies,
and violated sacred places and cultural symbols.

"Children were often beaten against walls, or thrown
alive into pits where the bodies of adults were later
thrown; they were also tortured and raped. Victims of
all ages often had their limbs amputated, or were
impaled and left to die slowly. Others were doused in
petrol and set alight, or disemboweled while still
alive. Yet others were shot repeatedly, or tortured
and shut up alone to die in pain. The wombs of
pregnant women were cut open. Women were routinely
raped while being tortured. Women - now widows - who
lived could scarcely survive the trauma: The presence
of sexual violence in the social memory of the
communities has become a source of collective shame."

Gibson hasn't told the story of the hunted refugees
fleeing Christian death squads a decade ago. His
ancient hunters are nothing more than figments of his
imagination, racist stereotypes of ancient Mayans who
existed nowhere but in his own delirium tremens. They
are his own demons chasing his imaginary hero / victim
/ alter ego, Jaguar Paw, through a "savage" jungle.

The framework of the story is deeply embedded in
Gibson's extreme right wing religious and political
views. He casts Mayan priests and leaders as
demonically malevolent at a time when interest is
growing world wide in Mayan politics – the Zaptistas –
and in Mayan spirituality and prophecy. The subtext of
the film and its social context involve the Mayan
prophecies of the end of an age of destruction, and
the beginning of another around 2012 C.E., an age that
can lead to harmony between humanity and the Earth.

The biblical counter-vision is of a righteous
world-destruction carried out by a vengeful god who
destroys all living creatures, a vision embedded in
the Apocalypse of Saint John, the Book of Revelations,
which was the inspiration for the film's title.

The Maya who survived the killing in Guatemala and
elsewhere kept their spiritual traditions alive -
including their prophecies of the end of this age -
despite 500 years of intensive efforts to eradicate
them. Right wing Christians see hell-driven New Age
plots at every turn, and understand attacking other
culture's spiritual traditions not as cultural
genocide but as legitimate "spiritual warfare" at a
time of approaching apocalypse.

Gibson brought Apocalypto to life on the propaganda
front of a spiritual war, a deadly serious culture war
between those who would protect and defend the Earth's
ability to live and those on the Christian Right who
want to "bring on" Armageddon.

The larger stakes are the future of life on planet
Earth in a time when the industrial civilization of
the West is seen by many as on the brink of collapse
and when the world's most respected scientists see
Earth as on the verge of ecological destruction, a
sentiment that is deeply shared by the living Mayan
wisdom keepers whose indigenous spiritual tradition
Gibson has chosen to paint as evil.

The survivors of the most recent wave of genocide
haven't seen Apocalypto yet – no Maya has, not even
those who had the bit parts Gibson reserved for them,
or who worked as extras and maids.

One can't help but wonder how Apocalypto will play to
Guatemalan audiences, but one thing is a sure bet:
Mayans will be deeply disturbed to see their culture
portrayed as a madhouse of killing, while those who
supported the death squad regime of the Christian
fascist Efraín Ríos Montt will take solace: their view
of the Maya as subhuman will be "justified" by the
film, and so will their genocidal reign of terror.

Racist stereotypes, after all, serve one function and
one function only – they serve as a story, a script
that justifies the use of violence against a targeted
group, whether the weapons of the oppressor are the
sword and cannon, the gas chamber, the M16, a lynch
mob's rope, or a camera.

One viewer understood and embraced Gibson's intent in
its entirety, saying Apocalypto:

"Pretty much precisely describes the whole point of
the civilizations of such "noble savages" as the
Mayans, if you ask us. There isn't one, there wasn't
one, and there never will be one. Those bloodthirsty
mongrels and many others before and after them were
brutal, savage, cruel and entirely without redeeming
qualities, and the best thing that ever happened to
this planet was when they were wiped out, never to be
heard of again.
In fact, we owe the Spanish Conquistadores an eternal
debt of gratitude for having wiped that
blood-curdlingly bestial, brutal blight upon humanity
off the face of the planet because, had they not done
it, we would have had to do so ourselves."
The son of a Holocaust denier, Gibson defended his
father in a 2004 interview, and, in the wake of his
recent drunken tirades against Jews, Gibson can ill
afford charges of propagating racism against Indians.
The film's PR campaign has carefully skirted potential
opposition and negative exposure. Despite that effort
Mayan activists who've seen nothing more than the
film's trailer denounced the film the day before it

Ignacio Ochoa, director of the Nahual Foundation, said
"Gibson replays, in glorious, big budget Technicolor,
an offensive and racist notion that Maya people were
brutal to one another long before the arrival of
Europeans and thus they deserved, in fact needed,

The Indians who've seen the film itself have been a
carefully chosen crew; Apocalypto, for all its epic
pretensions, premiered in an Oklahoma casino, and
certainly not for an audience of American Indian
Movement activists. The initial Latino audience was
chosen just as carefully. A Beverly Hills-based PR man
arranged screenings of the film for the Los Angeles
Latin Business Association – not for Mexican and
Central American migrants who know the Maya, not for
indigenous minded Chican@s, and certainly not for LA's
substantial community of Mayan refugees.

The Latin Business Association obligingly gave Gibson
their "Visionary" Award. But it's too late for Gibson
to hide behind such contrived honors. Even the LA
Times pointedly noted, " it's one thing to acknowledge
a work's… merits and quite another to proclaim Gibson
a 'visionary,' especially at a time when the
immigration debate has reminded Latinos that virulent
racism is only a few drinks away."

Genocide is even closer than that. Ask the Spanish.
Ask the death squads. Ask Mel, behind the camera or
behind a small glass. It's just a shot away.


Juan Santos is a Los Angeles based writer and editor.
His essays from 2006 can be found at:
http://the-fourth- world.blogspot. com/. He can be
reached at: JuanSantos@Mexica. net.


  • At 11:21 PM, Blogger Sha-King Allah said…

    Peace Earth,
    I totally enjoyed the movie. And as the Earth probably told you (and it's Colombian not Columbian, it's bad enough the country named after that pendejo) it does have it's inaccuracies. What movie doesn't?

    We could chase down Gibson all day about why he didn't do this or why he didn't do that. Well why aren't WE producing our own movies? So that we can get it right. With all things, you must get the understanding.

    Gibson may have a perspective that Christianity would defeat the 'natives cultures' of the world. However, the larger point is that we 'fell from grace', so to speak. It pisses me off that you have people defending Original civilizations like they were Utopia. Yes, Mayans built pyramids, developed the concept of 'zero' etc. They did not practice widespread sacrifice. However, we fell from within. WHY DID WE "LET" THE HALF ORIGINAL MAN LIKE COLMBUS DISCOVER THE PART POOR? We lost touch with who we were and were already fighting amongst one another when Europeans made contact. That just added salt in the wound. Just like when people talk about Africa. White people didn't sneak on shore and start snatching up black people like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or something. Europe and Africa had hundreds of years of fruitful interaction prior to 1492. Look at the 1-36. Not to mention that West Africa was already in shambles because of religious ISLAM when trader arrived. We couldn't stand a chance.

    However, there are far too many of us that still want to 'blame' the whiteman. I'm not saying that didn't have a significant contribution. However, it's not all on them. Where did they come from? They came from us, which means that the 'devil' was in existance prior to their physical existance.

    4th 1-14- Yakub was an Original blackman and father of the Devil. He taught them to do this devilishment.

    We are at war with Yakub's world manifest no the whiteman's world manifest. the whiteman was only a vehicle for Yakub's ideas.

    I'm at war with the DEVIL- Black, Brown, Yellow AND White.

    The Original man is the owner or the Earth and knowing every square inch of it has a responsibilty to uphold and further the civilization he fathered. The Earth is to be BUILT on. And it's either Build or DESTROY.

    Allah, 1967 Ottisville- "The United States needs to go over there and kill anyone who ain't tryin'a be civilized,because the Earth is to be built on." (remarking about the Vietnam War)

    The above is a harsh statement and requires a lot of understanding. However, he was making a point. Sh^t or get off the pot !!! Look, some of our people were cannibals and through the universal justice or Almighty God, the Supreme Mind, it may have taken white people to take them out of that. Because they couldn't see what they weren't doing was cool. It may have been cool thousands of years ago, b-u-t all things change or what? DIE. Some of our people are sitting in the frozen ice tundras of the North, eatin' seals and riding in dogsleds. That's my people too. B-u-t guess what homie, no wonder why white people came and served ya'll up. We often talk about the BEST parts of our civilization, but not what brought them down. Egypt fell because of caste systems....chinese were binding women's feet.....Women in East Africa are being circumcised and sodomized. The whiteman didn't teach them that. Who taught them that? Where did those teachings come from?


  • At 7:55 AM, Blogger I Medina Peaceful Earth said…

    Peace God!

    Thanks for your clarity on the matter (and pardon self for the spelling of Colombian...I'll change that). You make a great point in that we do tend to focus on the best parts of our civilizations, and that's cool, but it's not a balanced perspective, threfore, providing an unrealistic depiction of that reality, and that is what the Gods and Earths deal with. Just like how a lot of pro-Black folks (and I know, I was one of them) tend to romanticize classical Africa or want to implement rituals and customs without any context. Or how folks say we built pyramids then, why can't we do it now? That took place in another space and time, where the things we learned, our body's conditioning to the environment, the air we breathed, the food we ate, the water we drank...the overall interaction with our environment was different. So trying to bring that back and applying it wholistically in the wilderness of North America is difficult and usually unsuccessful because you're taking a culture (and of course there were so many ethnic groups, languages, cultures and customs in so-called Africa, when trying to implement, what people/country/specific culture are you reaching from) out of context or relation to the reality of that time. Peace!


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