Movie Boycott -Stereotyping Native People

David L. Frye dfrye at
Sun Jan 23 17:31:10 UTC 2000

What is wrong with the movie's "history"? Not having seen it (obviously),
I can only go by the description we have been given, but it seems that the
movie makers have taken the most easily stereotyped vignettes from the
Cortez enterprise and applied them to an entirely fictional "El Dorado"
quest in a way that inevitably makes for bad history.

> It is fairly clear that the possibility of Cortez being in some sense
> Quetzalcoatl or at least his avatar or emissary did indeed contribute
> to the Nahua paralysis in effectively dealing with the Spaniards.

1. This is admittedly the common version given in most accounts of the
conquest, but it is based on astonishingly thin evidence. The entire
"Cortes-Quetzalcoatl" scenario appears only in the later accounts. While
it is fairly clear that Nahuas applied the term "teotl" to the Spanish
early on, it is also clear that the Spanish thought they were being called
"gods" and that they relished the idea, despite the fact that the Nahuas
never revered them as gods. To pretend that identifying "whites" as gods
is a generic "native" reaction to "superior strangers" is arguably racist.

> A native woman, Malinche, did in fact become Cortez's "sidekick" in
> short order, and played a crucial role in the conquest.

2. But certainly not a sidekick in the Hollywood sense, nor was she a
voluptuous seductress, and to turn her into that (rather than the
embattled, enslaved, but highly intelligent survivor -- and probably a
teenager -- that she was) is Hollywoodization of history at its worst.

> Native priests did in fact practice human sacrifice, and it's relatively
> clear that at least in late Tenochtitlan mass sacrifice was used for
> political terror as well as for religious purposes.

3. So what does the absolutely exceptional case of late Tenochtitlan have
to do with any mythical El Dorado? Why take the most objectional aspect of
one society and make it emblematic of "Native" religion elsewhere,
particularly if (as you recognize yourself) the use of sacrifice in late
Tenochtitlan was more political than religious? (Especially if the film
does not at the same time depict the abandon with which Europeans killed
and raped in the course of their conquests.)

My apologies to all for prolonging this discussion. I'll bow out now.

David Frye

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