December 14, 2006

Native defends Apocalypto

Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” is good entertainment

By Roscoe PondI saw “Apocalypto” here in Los Angeles at the huge Cinerama Dome and was transfixed. It was a visually stunning film shot by a cinematographer who won an Oscar for capturing “Dances with Wolves” 1990. I did not go to watch a PBS documentary about the Mayan Civilization. I went to see how Gibson was going to entertain me and boy he did.

This is what I say to all those angry historians, native journalists, bloggers and native newspapers in general. I nominate you all for ESPN’s “Whine of the week.” Wah, wah, Waaaahhhh! Please stop. If you feel so angry about historical accuracy then go and make your own movie about the real Mayan culture. Write a screenplay, get a camera package, editing software and create something that speaks to who you are as Native or Indigenous or Mayan. I’m sick and tired of your whining. That’s all Natives do. Stop it. Do something about it. A lot of us Natives are here in Hollywood trying to change things, trying to make it, trying to show the world that we are here. Come join us if you will.

As a filmmaker Mel Gibson will continue to flourish. I’m glad to say that he is a visionary who stands behind his artistic integrity. Other directors would never take the chances Gibson does and he will be remembered for it. One last thing, if you disagree with Gibson on any level then don’t go to see his movies. It’s that plain and simple. And by all means, do not sit back and whine and whine and whine about it. That isn’t doing anybody any good. Get over it!
Comment:  One doesn't have to be an artist to weigh and judge artwork. But I've created Native-themed comic books that are as free of stereotypes as possible. That gives me the right to reprehend anyone who hasn't made the effort I have.

So no one should ever criticize a movie and its flaws? Yeah, right. How are people supposed to learn how to make good films: by trial and error?

Stop whining about our so-called whining. If you can't make a stereotype-free product, stay out of the business. Leave the field to those of us willing to depict Native people honestly and accurately.


chrisrowlandfineart said...

I cannot comprehend Roscoe's line of reasoning.
Although he has every right to believe what he believes. I believe that it is make believe. LOL Think about it, if you have ever been around some of these casting agents, then you know they tend to devalue the "person", and Praise the "Character". I have seen this hideousness at work first hand. Some productions companies will hire an Indian they think will be a leader to organize the rest of those "Savages". Then they proceed to take advantage of them by not paying them what they would pay a stuntman for doing these risky stunts,i.e. riding horses, etc. I have seen the way they take these beautiful people for granted and it is downright appalling... The difference is that other natives
tend to have more love for themselve s and their cultures but some just can't get the stars out of their eyes. They then begin to live in that make believe world, hence becoming a quasi version of their movie character, Often living in that world for years.
Sure, we would like to be in the movies but at what cost?
Melvin Gibson is a biggot who has people like Roscoe in the palms of his hands.
Melvin should KNOW to quietly walk out of our lives but can't because of his innate narcisism.

Mickey Richards and Melvin Gibson: A discusting version of a modern day "Bonny and Clyde". Shame, shame on the American public for adding fuel to the fire and perpetuating these stereo types which only tend to oppress the beauty of the human spirit.
Perhaps Roscoe will see the bigger MOVING picture and come back home.

I wonder how many(brainwashed) HOLLYWOOD Indians are going to throw a temper tantrum. My bet is...

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Your bet hereby is called by a genuine, award-winning Native film industry writer, writerfella, and you lose!
First, learn to spell. 'Quasi version' needs to be hyphenated, 'quasi-version'. 'Biggot' is 'bigot'. "Narcisism' is 'narcissism'. 'Discusting' is 'disgusting', an interesting, almost-Malapropism. 'Stereo types' is 'stereotypes'. 'Make believe' also needs to be hyphenated, 'make-believe' or spelled as a single word, as either is acceptable.
Then, you should purchase a copy of Strunk & White's writing guidelines, because 'Although he has every right to believe what he believes.' is a dependent clause without any real sentence to which it should be attached. 'Some productions companies' is a double pluralization that is not permissible in real and actual writing. Are 'i.e. riding horses, etc.' risky stunts as defined by the stuntman's union in the I.A.T.S.E.?
It is yourself who has thrown a temper tantrum and who possibly fails to realize that it is yourself who must prove the talents necessary to do better than those about whom you complain. No brag, just fact...
All Best
Russ Bates

Anonymous said...

Roscoe also submitted his commentary to me several days back, and the response we've been getting has been similarly strong. Bottom line is that Roscoe is wrong on this one. Natives ARE out there making movies and no, they are NOT whiners if they knock a particular film. I'ts called c-r-i-t-i-c-i-s-m.

Rob said...

Chris didn't state the exact nature of his "bet," so I don't think he can lose.

The Oklahoma Indians who saw a preview of Apocalypto seemed to like it too.

Natives aren't necessarily more sensitive to stereotyping than non-Natives are. We've seen them praise such movies as Pocahontas and Black Cloud.

Finally, it appears Roscoe Pond is trying to break into Hollywood's big leagues. He has good reason not to bite the hand that may feed him.

Good point by Carole. Yes, Roscoe, what about all those Natives who are making movies? Is it okay if they criticize Apocalypto? Somehow, I don't think you'd approve of their "whining" either.

Anonymous said...

Natives have always been "glorified" in Hollywood, unfortunately we Natives have to deal with it. I once asked a high executive from Disney about when Disney and Hollywood would begin to depict Natives in a true respectful light that is not offensive. He told me, "I'll be honest with you. The general public is not ready, nor will they ever want to see Natives for what they really are. The general public has a view of what a Native should be. And we at Disney see this and market what we produce about Natives to cater to these wants and needs of the general public. It's all about money." I told him that I didn't agree with his answer but, I respected his honesty. I may not agree with what Hollywood does, but unfortunately, in reality it is all about the money.

I myself am an "Independent" Navajo film maker. I have no desire to make Hollywood my life goal. As a Navajo film maker, it is my responsibility to make films that depict my people with respect. I would be letting my people down if I were to go out and exploit the hell out of us. Besides, it would go against everything I stand for as an individual.

On a side note, we are about to premiere our very first feature film "Mile Post 398" on January 6, 2007 here in Kayenta, AZ. It features an all Navajo cast and crew, and was filmed entirely on the Navajo Nation. This has never been done before. Before we even began production, we ran into all kinds of critisim. Some stated that: "Navajos don't have the know-how, resources, and talent to make a full feature film." And believe it or not, these were other Natives saying this to us.

Anyway, we finished the film. If you get a chance to make the premire, watch the film and tell me if we "Stereotyped" or not.

Sheephead Films

Christopher Rowland said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christopher Rowland said...

Thank you, Russ,

I feel humbled by your correction of my spelling and punctuation. I contacted a local company called "All-Write!" (play on words.) And they said they could help me if I was willing to pay them 40 dollars per hour. How much will you charge me for any work you MAY want to do for me in the future?
Thanks for the "freebie," or "freeby," according to the Websters New World Dictionary.
Thank you for proving my point. Did I flush you out or what?
Unfortunately, Roscoe is only a SYMPTOM of a disease that threatens to corrupt and Kill the very nucleus and substance of Native American Spirituality.
The "Old Ways," and the culture of "community," have always been offered as an alternative to the almighty dollar,(which incidentally has less value right now than the Euro,) so that those maladjusted souls seeking refuge can find spiritual sanctuary. Sadly, there are too many Hollywood Indians and not enough Brave Native American Men.
I believe it is okay to work in the "Industry." I have done it.
But why sacrifice your inborn values
for a clump of change? If you're going to sell yourself why not ask for as much money as Nichole Kidmin, (where is my spell check guy, lol,) or any other valuble players in the industry?
Have some pride! Use your talents wisely and be "picky" about what pictures you want to be in. Last but not least, quit embarrassing me and others.

P.S. Writerfellow, please keep up the good work in doing what you do best!


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
'Whining' is defined in lexicographies as "To complain in a childish, undignified way..." That is a definition I find quite compelling. And there is another word for undignified complaint and it is not c-r-i-t-c-i-s-m. It is instead: c-a-t-e-r-w-a-u-l-i-n-g.
And no, you did not 'flush me out' as I am here 24/7 offering commentary and whimsy where and if I see it would be appropriate. Thus it is that I do not post on each and every article. And you made no point at all for anyone to prove or to disprove.
writerfella is a longtime hyphenate member of the Writers Guild of America, west, and his film/TV scripts and screenplays are performed at union rates. As well, he has been a past member of the Screen Actors Guild with seven movie appearances.
writerfella found his interests in independent Native films to have been deflected into disinterest after unsavory contretemps with something calling itself The Native American Producers Guild. The group, encountered at a Native film festival held in Minneapolis in 1993, made it very clear indeed that their ranks would include only Native filmmakers and film producers. And they had no interest at all in Native film writers unless those writers intended to make their own films. There is a phrase much applicable to such a situation: the poet is without honor in his own land.
And there are no such things as inborn values, just as there is no way to have picked one's parents. Values are learned from parents, from family, from schools, from society, from the community, from churches, and from the media. There is an inborn Native consciousness, however, a quantity that non-Natives never will fathom, comprehend, or possess. One of the best filmic representations of that consciousness was in a scene in POWWOW HIGHWAY, where Philbert wades into an icy stream to greet the dawn as his friend Buddy huddles in their car, saying 'No way I'm going out there,' only to find himself in the very same icy water moments later, very much puzzled. Perhaps this is what you intended to say.
writerfella holds an Emmy Award, a Robby Award, a Melies Prize, a Peabody Award, and has been nominated several times for Hugo and Nebula awards in his chosen field of science fiction writing. In 1974 writerfella put the first Native American crewman aboard the Starship ENTERPRISE. Thus, he always has done what he does best.
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

To me, Roscoe's complaints are the most akin to caterwauling.

I addressed Russ's take on Powwow Highway in my comments on Playing Indian on Halloween.

I wish Blogger offered a spell-checker, but it doesn't. The careful writer spell-checks his prose in another program before posting it here.

Rob said...

Thanks for the info on Disney, Shonie. I can see the headline version now:

Disney Says Native Stereotyping to Continue
"It's all about money," exec admits

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
What is 'the bottom line' in any enterprise (no pun intended)? As Oscar Wilde said, 'Any writer who ever has said that he writes for anything but the money is a LIAR!'
One can state all of the altruistic reasons for working in one's field, but the rent and food and gasoline and clothing and the phone and postage and the utilities and day care and cable TV and newspaper and magazine subscriptions and the internet figure in there somewhere. How then, with all of the above, did any of the 'critics', professional or self-appointed, go to see APOCALYPTO? Oh, maybe they won free tickets on their favorite radio station...
All Best
Russ Bates

Christopher Rowland said...

Good grief Russ!
Now you are saying something that I can actually speak to.
First of all, human beings can be born with values. A value can be innate, intrinsic, and therefore inherent. In the end, inborn. Saying that we as Native Amercans have values that are "inborn" is not untrue but rather simply stated, perhaps a little too simple for your tastes.
You must remember Russ, that we are all born with gifts, and seeing this may takes us a lifetime. Or, we may see it right away. At times we may realize that our gifts are conceptual and at other times experimental. But the gifts are always there. You will see it in a newborn baby if you observe very carefully.
These gifts are often handed down from generation to generation. But
I caution you about using such words as "Never" Never say Never! LOL. You, of all people should know this.
That consciousness you speak of, the one that was introduced in the film POWWOW HIGHWAY was presented by a writer named
David Seals. He is not Native and yet, look what transpired from that scene. David was angery because they only paid him 10,000 dollars for the whole story. In the long run it wasn't about money,(although a person has got to eat.) It was about that consciousness you speak of...
How about that?
Perhaps, as you get closer to the source of your anger, you will be able to identify it in your work. It may unleash the floodgates of creativity that I feel are still
holding you back from your best stuff. I feel that your genius is of an experimental type, meaning that you have not yet peaked.

As for this whole third person thing


Christopher Rowland said...

Earth to Russ.

I'm going to share a poem that I wrote when I was 8 years old. I was inspired after this White Lady came to our duplex and asked if she could buy this dog that was on our doorstep. It was probably from a pack of feral dogs who had just been born. They were from across highway 212 over by the dumps. We politely approached our neighbors, inquiring: "Hey, is this your dog?" "Hey, is this your dog?" It was about two weeks old and a dirty white, brownish grey, type of color. No one wanted to claim it. Each of the kids nearby looked at with the usual "I'm not touching it" expression. We all knew at that time (before the great parvo plague)that every dog was going to be mangy. But, this little tail wagger was actually kind of cute and looked like maybe it was that "one in a million" dog. Hell, I kind of wanted to keep it. Naw, mangy. So, she picked it up and let it lick her mouth while they "bonded"
and she cooed like it was a human baby!
I didn't know weather to bust out laughing or maybe just stare in awe.
The little girl next door had a look on her face like she had just ate a sack of unsalted lemons.
well, anyway, I started selling it.
"yeah" I said. That there is a real rez dog, you can kinda tell by its nose... legs are reeeel skinny.
She ended up giving me 20 bucks for it. Oh, we checked, and it was a girl dog.
Excitedly She said, "I'll name her Nelly!"
So I guess Nelly Became the family pet. And the Lady was a longtime friend. later, when she came back by she mentioned to a group of us that Nelly had Mange and it somehow infested the whole family and they had to go to the doctor and get some special medication. I busted out laughing. I kept thinking, "that tricky little mutt."
so this is how the poem goes...
(oh I had just read poe too)
The Mangy Mutt

This crooked dog who walks with mange
Itching evermore.
This lonely, scabby,pinkish pooch
scratching at my door,
Howls of pain this dog utters
as it spewts chunck of flesh upon my floor,
this scroungy, decreped, mangy mutt
must surely live nextdoor!


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
"Earth to Russ?" Wow, thanks! In another post some time back, the poster said, "You must live in a whole other world!" And writerfella's reply was, "Wow, thanks! A science fiction writer rarely receives such fulsome praise."
All that writerfella will admit to, without compromising his own modesty, is that he always has believed that he improves with each and every project he concludes. Anything that happens along the way is a plateau, a benchmark, a stage, a moment. And thus he continues on his course knowing that his best achievements still are forthcoming. No brag, just fact.
And anyone who says that people (no matter the race or location) are born with values must have bought into AIM's recent propaganda that there is something called 'the collective unconscious'. Never mind, AIM says, that this is a white man concept; just surrender your tribalism and your languages and your histories and your cultures (and your identities!) and become JUST INDIANS, and unite into a single group that finally will enable American Natives to become a meaningful political force as did the Blacks. The adjunct to all of that is, if you ever should need your tribalism or your languages or your histories or your cultures, all you have to do is consult the 'collective unconscious' and there it will be. Lucky individuals rejected it as propaganda, but some paid good money to hear it and then hear it again.
There is a phrase: 'It is a wise child that knows its own father.' Now that The Human Genome Project has mapped human DNA, there still yet is to be found any area in the human helices that contains 'genetic memory'. That does not mean there are no such areas but, at this point, the Loch Ness Monster or UFOs have more validity as concepts than do 'inborn values'.
The 'gifts' of which you speak now are recognized as genetic mutations and as such have more to do with the immediate given organism than they do with that organism's ontogeny, read: heredity. Thus, the gifts are not 'handed down' but actually are unique to the individual created by the particular combination of genes that make up that individual. Even those 'gifts', however, must be stimulated and nurtured, even accidentally or synergistically, or they are lost to the individual and eventually are wasted.
As for writerfella's use of the word 'never', you are correct in one and only one circumstance. And now writerfella will tell you a secret that you will not like: this land and these continents 'created' the Natives who existed here in pre-Columbian times. Those Natives eventually were defeated, mostly destroyed, and then displaced from their existences by EuroMan. But the forces that created the original Natives did not cease nor did they disappear. They still are at work, and slowly and surely are changing EuroMan into the Natives he destroyed and displaced. The only problem is that the land is not the same any longer; it has been shorn of its forests, of its vast herds of animal species, and of its original humans. The air, the water, and the earth all have been corrupted and sullied and poisoned. What the creative forces in these continents now will create cannot be known, until they finally are done. One only has to witness that EuroMan attacks everything, including the Earth itself, to know that what will become of him is his own fate entirely.
POWWOW HIGHWAY was a production of HandMade Films, and the main producer of those films was George Harrison of The Beatles. The film therefore was British and so one of the best films about American Natives was not done by Americans or by American Natives. What does that say?
Understand that writerfella is one of the slowest to anger individuals that you ever would want to meet. As The Hulk said, you would not want to see me angry. What I write here is not from anger, but from amusement and surprise and disappointment. Nearly all the mental energy found on this website somehow is misspent. Quoting experts simply means that the quoter does not have to complete a thought or notion of his own. Somehow, that escapes the quoter but then again it somehow is safer than doing their own thinking.
Lastly, writerfella now will quote not an expert, but someone who completed their own thoughts. And that was Albert Einstein, who said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, but imagination encompasses the world."
Early in his career, writerfella kept that quote affixed to his typewriter. Now it sits as a logo strip atop his computer monitor.
As for the 'third person' persona that writerfella exhibits, it exists for a reason: sometimes, the only person who really will listen to you and understand you is yourself. Few people ever stop to listen to themselves and maybe that is why they fail...
All Best
Russ Bates

Anonymous said...

Oh thank God! I thought I was the only person who hated it when "writer fella" would refer to himself in the third person.
Russ, maybe you should think about dropping that. No offense, but it does sound kind of lame.

Rob said...

Re "Quoting experts simply means that the quoter does not have to complete a thought or notion of his own":

This is pretty funny, Russ, considering how often you drop out of debates by saying you have better things to do or can't be bothered to support your arguments with evidence. Compared to me, you're doing a poor job of completing your thoughts in this blog.

I've got 1,600+ pages on this website that prove I have more to say about Native stereotypes than anyone you know. In addition, I can quote experts to bolster the positions I've established in my 1,600+ pages, which is apparently more than you can do. Whether the criterion is original thoughts or expert testimony, I win.

If David Seals isn't Native, as Chris suggested, that would blow your Powwow Highway anecdote out of the water. It would mean that the writer, director, and one of two actors in the "Native" scene you tout so highly were non-Natives. Oops.

Feel free to use your intellectual powers to reconcile these two contradictory claims:

"[A]nyone who says that people (no matter the race or location) are born with values must have bought into AIM's recent propaganda that there is something called 'the collective unconscious'."

--Russ Bates, December 2006

"[Natives have] an almost-instinctive ability, sort of a genetic racial memory."

--Russ Bates, October 2006

So which is it? Are Indians born with something that attunes them spiritually or psychologically to Indian cultures? Or do they learn Indian cultures through experience and education? Good luck with your answer.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, the fact that this movie is generating so much heat, both from within and without the Native American populace, is proof of just how divided this country continues to be over the depiction of Native Americans in film. It seems strange to me that in an era when Hollywood strives to present balanced and (mostly) non-offensive images of African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, Native Americans are still considered fair game by the general public.

Indeed Hollywood, the American Indian and the movie-going public has had a strange relationship. In less than a couple of generations, we've gone from John Wayne's "savages" to the whole Reconstructionist romanticism of the 80's and 90's (ala' Dances With Wolves) to the current shift, which seems to be about (finally) bringing a sense of realistic balance--that we are neither savage nor noble, but merely people, like everyone else, with all the good and the bad that implies. But no matter what, it seems people can't be pleased. The truth is that Native people have had to fight so hard to simply be perceived as human beings in Hollywood--that is why we are so super-sensitive to Hollywood's portrayals of us, because if we don't speak up for ourselves, who else will? Certainly not you the general public, who persist in telling us to shut up whining. It is not whining when you see your own culture being abused and falsely portrayed.

However, I can say that having seen Apocalypto I have a lot of respect for what Gibson has done. I am not Mayan and only the Mayan have the right to truly say if he got it right or wrong. But I can say that as a Native person I find it refreshing to see ANY film where the conflict is not Indians vs. Europeans, but rather a story about our own conflicts from within. Anyone who thinks our world was all sunshine, roses and harmony before Columbus is sadly misguided and disillusioned. It was not a pretty world, but an often violent and bloody one. The fact is, just as among Europeans, there were stronger tribes and people who overran the weaker; there were villians and, I'm sure, heroes. I don't really care that the film pits Myans against Mayans. It is a story about internal conflict among Native people, and in that regard, it is an honest story. It is a story in which Native Americans are both the villians AND the heroes. Sometimes I think it might pay both sides to take a chill pill. The general public needs to shut up and understand when Native people have a legitimate right to voice protests. However, Native people likewise need to get over the fact that if all aspects of our culture are going to be portrayed and understood, that is going to involve both the good and the bad, the ugly and dark side as well as the beautiful and romantic. Otherwise, we will forever be caricatures, and never three-dimensional human beings onscreen.

chrisrowlandfineart said...

If Mel and Mikey are a cheap imitation of a modern day "Bonnie and Clyde," then Ravenwood and writerfella are a respectable representation of 'Laurel and Hardy...' I can hear their theme song playing in my head...
Sounds like Ravenwood is antipathetic to all of Native America.
Ravenwood! Have you read any of Rob's posts?
I think that you should definately look at the "Stereotype of the Month" series.
I kid you not, I'm going to nominate you as the "Shameful Shaman of the month." LOL

what a loser


Anonymous said...

You don't know me, and you definitely don't know who I am or anything about me. I am a Cherokee writer who has spent over half my life fighting for Native causes; fighting to get creative writing programs implemented for Native youths, for religious rights and protection of burual grounds, for elimination of mascot names, and if I really cared to get into it, a whole list of others as long as your arm or mine. To call me a loser simply because I wrote in defense of a film that I think does have some redeeming value for Native people (albeit its flaws) is ludicrous. (Perhaps you should read my post in the film's "Pluses and Minuses" thread for a more balanced view of my opinion on the film).

I am sorry; I just assumed that this was an open forum for intelliegent and honest discussion-or debate, whatever the case may be.
I hardly call myself apathetic; if anything, I'm a hairtrigger usually ready to pounce on the least derogatory comment anyone makes about Native people. I don't appreciate many of the liberties that were taken with this film, but there were compensating qualities that I did like. Yes, it's another case of a white guy trying to tell an Indian story. They're bound to get it wrong most of the time. But these kinds of things did happen in pre-Columbian times. I go back to the age-old joke that I've heard from my family and friends ever since I've been in the world: If we could've ever gotten our own sh** together, we might've managed to defeat the European invasion. I think the film at least is honest in depicting that aspect of the culture. But it's not new. We've seen it played out in Holywood before: In Dances With Wolves (Lakota vs. Pawnee); The Last of the Mohicans (Huron vs. Mohican); but never quite on this epic scale before.

It's certainly not the ultimate story that needs to be told about the Mayan civilization. But I've seen movies that were certainly far more offensive to my values as a Native person than this one.

Rob said...

Which Native-themed movies were more offensive than Apocalypto, ravenwoods? From what I've heard, Indians have never appeared more cruel, barbaric, and bloodthirsty than in this movie. Sure, films such as Last of the Mohicans and The Missing featured wholly evil Indians, but has an entire culture ever been portrayed this badly? Even the cannibals in Pirates of the Caribbean didn't do anything comparable to the bloodletting in Apocalypto.

No one is saying movies should portray Indians only positively. Critics (including Native critics) have complained about movies such as Dances With Wolves because they romanticize Indians as noble savages. The question is whether a movie portrays Natives as real, complex people or as one-dimensional stereotypes.

According to everything I've read, Apocalypto has done the latter. As one critic put it, "Here the bad guys scowl and menace, and the good guys are completely angelic." If the good guys did some bad things and the bad guys did some good things, we'd be praising the movie instead of condemning it.

A lot of movies have featured internecine conflicts between Natives, so that's nothing new. Examples include Thunderheart, Atanarjuat, and the Tony Hillerman movies. Again, the question isn't whether Indians are depicted as villains. It's whether the villainous Indians are depicted as over-the-top, inhuman evildoers--i.e., horrific mass murderers akin to Hitler or Stalin.

Anyway, you can be sure you'll see Apocalypto in the Stereotype of the Month contest eventually. At this point, I'd say it's the favorite to be chosen the 2006 Stereotype of the Year loser.

Finally, ravenwoods...yes, it is ludicrous to call you a "loser" for anything you've written here. Let's keep the debates clean and friendly, everyone.

Rob said...

If you read ICI #148: Gibson's Buckets of Blood, you'll see I didn't condemn Apocalypto completely. I noted several good points, such as Gibson's technical prowess and use of Native actors. Sure, the bad points outweighed the good points by 2 to 1, but that's better than 100 to 1 or infinity to 1. ;-)