Guatemala: Apocalypto in Context

Nowadays about 80% percent of the population in Guatemala has their genetic and cultural origins in ancient Mayan culture; that was not a uniform group but a Society formed by alliances among several groups in Mesoamerica, reaching its highests point in the Classical Period. The biggest mayan city, Tikal, is located in Guatemala, showing the splendor in architecture and science of Mayan culture. Indeed, Guatemalans are proud of such cultural heritage, and ancient Mayan civilization is always used as an example to follow in school here of how a small country can do great things to amaze the world.

That´s why the film Apocalypto, directed by Mel Gibson (who is now visiting Guatemala for a couple of days), found everywhere in the “black market” of DVD´s throughout the city, is controversial. Even the Ministry of Culture has been asked to censor the movie which will arrive to theaters in March. Here some abstracts of what Guatemalan bloggers are saying about it:

Journalist and Photographer Leon Aguilera writing at KLAVAZA [ES] points out that even while the director did a great job with photography, the mixture of colors, and, in the end, made an entertaining movie, it is full of unforgivable historical mistakes, such as the language used in the film (never spoken by post classical Mayas), and it shows 100% pure fiction. It is not a historical movie at all. He does, however, affirm that the film can be useful as an example to Mr. President Bush, and quoting Will Durant, continues that: “civilizations fail when they begin to rot from the inside”. He had found certain parallelism between the Spanish Conquerors actions shown in Apocalypto and methods by the Bush administration in Iraq.

On the other hand, analyst Luis Figueroa at the blog Carpe Diem states that indeed Mayan culture had such scientific and astronomic achievements, but that it has also been proven that they practiced violent methods of war and human sacrifice, and that the film is sustained by history. He argues that it is not rational to claim for censorship, nor that the film is racist nor is it true that Mayas were less violent than, for example, ancient greeks. According to Figueroa, to ask for censorship is to regress to a totalitarian and arbitrary practice.

El Charakotel [ES] agrees with Carpe Diem that censoring the film is not right, however worries that global opinion about Mayas can be manipulated thus validating the argument that during the armed conflict in Guatemala, indigenous people just killed each other because they are violent and savage, rather than being an issue of genocide. His main concern is that films such as the ones directed by Gibson, state that only “Christian Western Values are the valid ones”, invalidating and criticizing Judaism, Mayan practices and others.


  • I’ve watched the cinema trailer of the movie some weeks ago. It’s indeed a very beautiful (i would say at least colourful and coreographical) movie. I must confess i was very curious about the watching the movie. Now… i am the kind of guy that likes to read about things, and, among these things, mezo-american and south-american cultures (one of which i’m a proud part of) so, the movie would be (maybe less than) healthy entertainment for me, and nothing else.

    I’m not sure if the concerns about the “misinformation” the movie could cause are entirely fundamented, but i must admit that’s very possible. There is, somewhere not very far out there, the kind of guys that BELIEVE Hollywood movies to be history classes, and these are the ones who can be very “misinformed” by this (and some other) movies. Now, the question is: is cinema responsible for our historical instruction? Shouldn’t we all “know a little better” than believe Gibson’s views on Mayan, Jewish (or even Scottish) cultures? That’s the point.

    I don’t think Apocalypto is a problem. It’s rather a “contrast” that shows the real problem that is: some people know little or nothing about (even their own) historical backgrounds, and don’t know where to look for it or, worse yet, don’t care to know better than Hollywood can (mis)inform them. That’s the sad point.

    By the way, i would say the same about other movies like Blood Diamond…

    But Babel looks like a great (and very thought provoking) one.
    What do you think? :D

  • Movies are not doctoral dissertations, isn´t it? On the other hand, for those curious about the nature of violence in the Mayan culture, I strongly recomend to check the Mayan art. Let the Maya speak for themselves. Cheers!

  • Hollywood seems to be capable of making the only the most ridiculous movies coz the only thing they care about is themselves and according to them the rest of the world is barbaric and stupid and thats why mel gibson is a success in America, i doubt he has the slightest idea about nething he is making coz his only purpose is to show that anythng other then christian values is low life.
    I have never seen a more stupid movie, instead of accepting that he is incapable of undertanding nething about this evolved culture because he is an idiot he has ended up making a big budget movie for other idiots to feel very nice that they are living in this system and any other system that existed before them was corrupt and violent.
    All i can say is you see what you deserve to see and maybe we deserve nothing more then this crap.

  • People are so quick to negativity. Let’s explore for a minute what we’re talking about. Apocalypto is a movie. That’s it and that’s all. Furthermore, it is a movie made by a man who comes from a Catholic background and a background of violent, action movies. Apocalypto is the result of Mel Gibson’s background as a person. He is first and foremost an entertainer. That’s it. If he wanted to “educate” people in Maya history, he would first be required to study Mayan history for a period of time and then be required to either publish a book on what he learned or go to an educational institution and teach people. Then, and only then, would I say, “He set out to educate people, and based on what I know, he got it wrong.” See, this is the thing that I think get people in such bulls**t trouble all over the world. Their inability to tolerate other people’s opinion. Mel Gibson set his film in Mayan times, with Mayan characters, doing Mayan things as far as HE is concerned. It’s his take on the matter. That’s IT. If someone wants to correct him, or educate the masses and say, “no, THiS is actually what happened,” then they should work hard, like Gibson did, to get THEIR movie made and show us otherwise. Don’t bash others for what their opinions are just because they differ from yours. Yes, challenge it with discussions, but don’t beat them down for it. Throughout our history as humans, how much bloodshed has there been just because someone’s opinion differed from another’s? Look at our world today. Do you really believe there will EVER be a time when we ALL AGREE on anything? And if not, shouldn’t we accept that fact and just deal with it like the “civilized” people we claim to be?

  • agon

    i Watched the movie, and i am albanian. so i was listning. and i heard them talking albanian. in a seen he says mes o tut. that means in albanian. dont be afraid. also the meaning was like in albanian to , dont be afraid. strange. albanian is the oldest indo european language of europe. mayby they jused it on perpuse.

  • the movie was great…it entails all your attention to know other culture,,,now i know, or is this really the right thing i have to know?

  • […] mergulhei-me na escrita do que inicialmente era apenas um post comentando uma citação de um comentário meu no Global Voices, feita por uma blogueira Guatemalteca em seu […]

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