March 24, 2007

History as we want it to be

Alicia Estrada, an assistant professor of Central American studies at California State University, Northridge, challenged filmmaker/actor Mel Gibson about the accuracy of his most recent film effort, "Apocalypto":

Gibson directed an expletive at the woman, who was removed from the crowd.

“In no way was my question aggressive in the way that he responded to it,” Estrada said. “These are questions that my peers, my colleagues, ask me every time I make a presentation. These are questions I pose to my students in the classroom.”

Gibson’s publicist, Alan Nierob, characterized the professor as “a heckler.”

“The woman ... was rude and disruptive inasmuch as the event organizers had to escort her out,” Nierob said.

Lauren Robeson, editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, the Daily Sundial, said Gibson denounced Estrada as a troublemaker.

OK, Gibson reacted like a jerk (given his recent history that isn't so tough to believe), but what exactly was Prof. Estrada's beef? I have yet to see this movie, but if what this article states is any indication, Estrada is the one that needs to be challenged (my emphasis):

Human sacrifice among the Mayans has been well-documented in recent years and is accepted as fact by most anthropologists, knocking down a previous theory that the culture did not take part in such bloody rituals.

However, there are some scholars and Indian activists who still believe the human sacrifice accounts are false or overblown, and an attempt by racist scientists to paint the culture as violent.

“This isn’t the Mayan culture,” Juan Tiney, leader of the National Indian and Farmer Committee, Guatemala’s biggest Mayan organization, told the AP: “Although it might be part of it, there was also culture, economics, astronomical wealth and language. ... It discredits a people to present them in this manner.”

My readings about "Apocalypto" have shown it to be a quite violent film, but ... so what? Because Gibson concentrated on one aspect of Mayan culture -- that happened to be quite violent and brutal -- doesn't make his account inaccurate. If Prof. Estrada believes as Mr. Tiney, she really needs to re-evaluate her research.

Again, so what if the Maya practiced human sacrifice and other brutal beliefs? They were indeed geniuses at mathematics and they developed their own written language. These alone are formidable achievements. The neighboring Aztecs were much more violent than the Maya, but they too possessed an advanced civilization, so much so that Hernando Cortés described it in detail in his famous letters to the Spanish king during his journeys there in the early 16th century. People like Tiney who want a "sanitized" version of history shouldn't be taken very seriously. Imagine that, if hundreds or thousands of years from now, someone wanted to make a film (or whatever serves as entertainment then) about World War II -- and a descendant of the old European Union screamed bloody murder because he felt that concentrating on that conflict "wasn't European culture" ... that "although the war might be part of it, there was also culture, economics, astronomical wealth and the heritage of democracy." Would that be a bit ridiculous?

One last note: I had read that at the end of "Apocalypto," the Maya are greeted by the arriving Spanish conquistadors. If this is true, this is a big historical error. The Maya civilization fell long before the Spanish came to the Americas. Perhaps it was Maya descendants that were so depicted meeting the Spaniards. Maybe someone who has seen the film can assist me here.

Posted by Hube at March 24, 2007 05:36 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Mel Gibson's movies are regarded across the board to have 100% more historical integrity than the usual effluent pumped out by Hollywood and she was just being disruptive.

Gibson is subjected to unfair scrutiny. THERE ARE other versions of the story by audience members which reveal:

A) Gibson was initially very patient with the professor and
B) She had it coming.

Posted by: Clark at March 26, 2007 06:03 AM