December 07, 2006

No Maya play Maya?

Mad Mel and the MayaIt is not as if Gibson had few Mayeros to choose from. There are more than a million Maya in Mexico, and more than 100,000 of them are monolingual Yucatecan Maya speakers. Yet Gibson chose not one Maya for a featured role. In so doing, he has made a film that reinforces the prejudice against the Maya, who have defended their cultural autonomy as fiercely as any people on earth. Twice they repulsed the Spaniard Francisco de Montejo, before he occupied part of the peninsula in 1527. They continued to fight pitched battles against European cultural and political dominance until the end of the Caste War in the early twentieth century. And even now militant organizations deep in the jungles of the state of Quintana Roo practice ancient rituals and resist Occidental cultural and political hegemony, including the Gregorian calendar. But the people have never been attacked by Hollywood.

Like the owners of the resort hotels that line the beautiful beaches of Cancún and Cozumel, Mel Gibson cast no Maya to work on his project, except in the most minor roles. Maya nationalists think the hotels and tourist packages that use the word "Maya" or "Mayaland" (a translation of Mayab) should pay for what they appropriate for their own use. The Maya patrimony, they say, is neither gold nor silver nor vast stretches of rich farmland; they have only their history, their culture, themselves. Like the hotel owners who bring strangers to the Yucatán to do everything but labor in the laundries and maintain the grounds, Gibson has brought in strangers to take the good parts from the Maya. He said in an interview that he chose people who "looked like you imagined they should," but I have seen photographs of Rudy Youngblood, and he does not look like any Maya I ever saw. One can only ascribe the choice of Youngblood and the other non-Maya to stereotypes that Gibson has adopted.


Rob said...

So far, Apocalypto's actors haven't received any praise from critics. If Gibson was going to hire amateurs to play the parts, why not hire Maya amateurs? With "more than a million Maya" to choose from--versus 2-4 million Natives in the US--it's not like the pool of potential Maya actors was minuscule. I bet Mexico's Yucatan region has its share of small theater companies.

Gibson had the wealth and prestige to hire anyone he wanted. I don't know if he made an effort to find Maya actors, but it sure doesn't seem like it. Given the theme and content of the movie, I think the article has a valid point. Gibson's prejudice against "primitive" Indians is evident on the screen.

Rob said...

I'm sure most productions feel that hiring Natives for Native roles is good enough. And for the most part, it is. Most Native movies have small budgets and can't afford to scour the continent for tribe-appropriate actors. But when you're casting a big-budget movie and have the resources to find Natives from the groups being portrayed, you should strive to do so.

A couple of reviewers have praised the actors playing Jaguar Paw, Zero Wolf, and Snake Ink. That suggests Gibson did more than just pluck any ol' Native actor wannabe off the street. Who knows? He may have tried to find Maya actors but failed.

Rob said...

I checked Apocalypto's credits online. Many of the actors were non-Mayas from Mexico City; a few were Mayas.

On the one hand, Gibson apparently made an effort to use Mexican (if not Maya) actors. An all-Maya cast might have been difficult to arrange. On the other hand, if astute viewers can recognize the Indians as non-Maya, that's a shortcoming. Authenticity is almost always better than inauthenticity.

Unknown said...

What the fuçk, it's s a movie, do you also think that REAL MONSTERS should play the monster's role in a horror movie? Lighten up, movies are meant to entertain us.

Unknown said...

What's the