Movie Boycott -Stereotyping Native People

Craig Berry cberry at
Sun Jan 23 18:45:28 UTC 2000

Tekpatltzin et al,

First, thank you for your considered and careful treatment of this issue.
There is obviously much to be said on many sides, here.

> I read the very scholarly and intelligent insights of those that
> regularly post to this list server. I see how many are learning the
> nahuatl language (the many versions of it), the nahuatl culture, the
> history , etc. No doubt about it, very enlightening stuff. But I live
> and work in a mostly Mexican area of Chicago and see how "our" people
> are trying to earn a living and raise their families without making much
> of a fanfare abut it.

Which is of course true of just about everyone, everywhere, of all races.
All Europeans are not living in mansions and ordering large staffs around,
any more than all Mexicans are picking lettuce outside Fresno.  We're all
people, some rich, some poor, some fascinated with history, some ignorant
of it, all just trying to get by.

> In other words they just want a chance at a decent
> life without being told that we are "illegal" aliens in a land that once
> had no "linear" borders.

Every country in every time has as a matter of course controlled
immigration.  Even the Mexica, on arrival in the Valley of Mexico, had to
find 'sponsors' among the already resident Nahua societies, and lived
marginally for a long time as they were assimilated.  Also note that there
are more legal residents of the US who are of Mexican decent than illegals
of the same ancestry.  Nobody (sane) wants to eject all Mexicans, or
harass them in any way.  Many rational people, including many of Mexican
ancestry, see the need to control the rate and nature of immigration
simply to avoid overwhelming various societal support systems.

In other words, immigrant status is *very* different from illegal
immigrant status, and focussing on the latter distorts the situation and
deals with a minority of the relevant population.

> I can't stand here and tell you that "sacrifice" was not a practice in
> ancient Anahuac. I was not there. And there are arguments on both sides.
> You bring your facts, I'll bring my facts and let's go at it.

Of course.  Like anything in the past, there is no certainty, only
probabilities associated with various types of testimony and other

> I can tell you that I am tired of always being reminded of this when I
> give talks.  I wish that maybe sometimes we could also talk about the
> Spanish and Catholic inquisition and the millions that they killed in
> the name of their GOD.

As I mentioned, we see plenty of this, too.  Over and over.  If anything,
the beautiful parts of European history are being lost in obsession over
its sins of conquest and oppression.

> But that is not what "sells" and if you are familiar with the people of
> Mexico today they are a huge Catholic majority and do not want to hear
> anything negative about the Catholic Church anyway.

"Not wanting to hear" is very *very* different from "not having the
information available," of course.

> Being one that works with youth and inmates I can tell you that movies
> like this one that is being offered by Mr. Spielberg's Dreamworks
> factory will make it's money but will provide nothing in the way of a
> educational opportunity.

How do you know this, not having seen the entire movie?

> Disney is also very good at distorting a historical chapter and then
> making a love story or a "feel good" movie for the movie viewers to
> forget any pain associated with history thus avoiding any real "healing"
> on a collective basis, that is for all of us to heal.

Like the grasping, hateful, lust-inspired pure evil of the priest in
Hunchback, a Frenchman (and hence part of my own ancestral civilization)?
Yes, this is definitely how I want to think of *my* people.

> Instead the kids will laugh and parents will buy little plastic
> figures and treat it all as a circus event.

Because it is.  Punch and Judy shows were the degenerate grandchildren of
morality plays about Pontius and Judas.  They had no redeeming social
value and distorted history beyond recognition.  They also were wildly
popular and made people laugh.  There's no crime in this.

> This is proving to be detrimental to our children and the schools today
> (as a whole) are no better at getting to the "healing" that has to take
> place in order for all of us to move forward.

Must everything with a historical basis, however remote, be utterly
accurate in every detail?  Are we to have no 'Camelot' because there was
probably no historical Arthur, and if there was, he lived during a period
of rude near-barbarism, not the Age of Chivalry?  Are we to have no
'Raiders of the Lost Ark' because Hitler cannot be shown to have
authorized a search for the Ark?  We must distinguish history from
fiction, and understand that fiction is given poetic license to distort,
exaggerate, and bend the truth for artistic reasons.

> So now Mexicanos in the U.S that still hold dear to our hearts the
> contributions that our ancestors offered will now have to suffer and
> watch another version of the quest for GOLD.

The Spaniards were looking for gold; that's historical.  And they didn't
have a trademark on greed and acquisitiveness, either; look at how far (in
distance and effort) the Nahua were willing to go for e.g. quetzal plumes.
"Going to the far place to get the treasure" is one of the archetypal
stories, from Jason and the Argonauts on down.

> We'll boycott it, but Mr.  Speilberg will make his money. We have to
> prepare for another score of questions about sacrifice and we'll answer
> them as before.

Surely a movie that makes people want to ask questions is a good thing?

> There has to come a time when a movie is offered that properly deals
> with the sad history of the formation of Mexico and the U.S. But this
> would hurt because it was not pretty, so in comes Disney and Dreamworks
> to ensure that we further delay any real "discussion" of what really
> happened. It hurts all of us because we know better.

I would like to see that movie.  But again, realize that aspects of this
are being dealt with, even in children's films.  Look at 'Pocohontas',
with the noble natives meeting rapacious gold-hungry evil Europeans.  I
felt like picketing *that* one. :)

> I am boycotting this movie because my children already heard the
> laughter in the thither (during the trailer)when the two "bumbling"
> spanish characters made their way into the jungle to begin the quest
> while meeting a sexy native woman who is there to assist them.

What was the problem with this laughter?  The bumbling hero is a staple in
every kid's film.  The friendly native woman is a matter of prominent
historical record twice (Pocohontas, Malinche) and hence fair game for

> It is wrong to laugh about this and my children even at their age knew
> this.

It is history that happened.  Perhaps through the laughter some curiosity
will be triggered.  That has certainly happened with other Disney films; I
personally know several under-10 children who have a basic idea of ancient
Greek mythology thanks to 'Hercules', for example.

> It is wrong to offer a movie in this fashion. Would Mr. Speilberg offer
> an amusing cartoon about the Holocaust of his people. Maybe with a young
> Jewish girl and a young Nazi guard falling in love and some wacky
> characters offering their support only to see them perish in the gas
> chamber. It has gotten that ridiculous.

Well, do note that in a paroxysm of astonishingly bad taste, the US
European-dominant culture of the 1960s, just two decades after the
Holocaust, did air 'Hogan's Heroes' -- and it was extremely popular, and
is still in syndication.  Talk about historical portrayals that make you
cringe!  And this is about Europeans murdering Europeans en masse, with a
laugh track.

> It is true. No one will know what really happened in the past.

It is the primary function of entertainment to entertain.  Historical
accuracy is secondary.  If art is chained to strict veracity, we arrive at
grim Soviet-style 'social realism' and art dies.  Teaching history is a
separate function, and cannot be force-fed to an unwilling audience.

> We can only guess ( with a spiritual or scientific method) and there are
> many different views, all of whom have passionate supporters. I am just
> tired of always having to hear about the "negativity" of our ancestors
> in the media. But that is the "American"  way. Tell a lie long enough
> and it will become truth.

Again, maybe California is different.  But the last media presentation I
can recall seeing with respect to Nahua heritage was a brief news item
concerning a group of Mexica dancers visiting LA from Mexico city,
presented as beautiful, historically rich, and worthy of attention by all
Angelenos.  (It was fun hearing the reporter trying to pronounce
'Xochitl', by the way. :)  Almost all the others are like this, too.
About a month ago I saw a brilliantly done documentary on Teotihuacan on
the Discovery Channel, which discussed human sacrifice in a balanced way,
and took care to trace cultural continuity from T. through the Nahua
culture and into modern Mexico.

I guess I'd be interested in seeing where all this negativity about Nahua
history is hiding; I don't seem to run across any.

   |   Craig Berry - cberry at
   |   "The road of Excess leads to the Palace
      of Wisdom" - William Blake

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