NMSU scholar says Gibson’s new film maligns the Maya.
The latest news out of Hollywood says the Walt Disney Co. is planning to stick with Mel Gibson’s epic movie "Apocalypto," despite its earlier reservations in the wake of Gibson’s widely publicized drunken-driving arrest in Malibu, Calif., last month.
The movie, which has been shrouded in some mystery (and whose production problems may have driven Mel to … well, we don’t know about that) is a sweeping story of the decline and collapse of classic Maya civilization and — as Gibson used Aramaic and subtitles in his controversial "Passion of the Christ" — will be told in the Maya tongue.
A Disney spokesman has confirmed that the company will distribute "Apocalypto" as scheduled, beginning on Dec. 8.
Even before Gibson went on his anti-Semitic rant, blaming Jews for starting "all the wars in the world," archaeologists and anthropologists — including Lisa Lucero, associate professor of anthropology at New Mexico State University — were getting on Gibson’s case for misrepresenting the Maya.
"The classic Maya really didn’t go in for mass sacrifice. That was the Aztecs," Lucero said in a USA Today article that appeared back on June 28 (and was reprinted in the Arizona Republic last month).
According to an article from NMSU that appeared in today’s Las Cruces Sun-News, Lucero said her comments were based on a trailer for the film that has been available online for months and on a Time magazine story published earlier this year.
"Out of the hundreds of Maya centers that are found throughout Central America, only a few show evidence of violence," Lucero, author of a new book, "Water and Ritual: The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers," said in another interview.
In the USA Today article, Lucero joined another archaeologist, David Webster of Penn State University, in pointing out that "Apocalypto" wasn’t even filmed in the classic Maya homeland and that the language used isn’t the ancient Maya tongue but modern-day Yucatec.
"A lot of nonscholars believe they have the right to write about the Maya, and that has been the case throughout history," Lucero has said, according to the Sun-News article. "They will write in a spiritual or New Age sense or in some other sense that’s not academic. That’s what is frustrating."
Nevertheless, Lucero told USA Today the film could be "a really good springboard into a lecture … Or it may be something we have to nip in the bud in that first lecture."
Meanwhile, Gibson — in his own soft-spoken, nuanced way — told an interviewer earlier this year, "After what I experienced with `The Passion,’ I frankly don’t give a flying (expletive) about much of what those critics think."
Gibson has said he partly sees "Apocalypto" as a political allegory for leadership in our era, USA Today reported.
Given his "in vino veritas" remarks last month, we can hardly wait.
Or we can keep telling ourselves it’s only a movie.