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...

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

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

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. ;-)