Film puts truth to the knife

January 12, 2007

Beating hearts are ripped from men's bodies in Mel Gibson's new film, Apocalypto . But in depicting the ancient Maya as bloodthirsty barbarians, the controversial actor-director has also hacked to pieces the history books, according to upset academics.

A group of specialists in the study of ancient Mesoamerica, who saw a preview screening of the film, were horrified by a "brutal" and "inaccurate" portrayal of ancient Maya that perpetuates old myths and stereotypes.

Elizabeth Graham, a senior lecturer in the archaeology of Latin America at University College London, said the film's depiction of urban Maya as obsessed with human sacrifice and violence made her ask whether the fruits of historical study were reaching anyone outside the academy.

She said: "Mr Gibson, in two years of research and filming, will have affected more people and changed more people's views than I will have done in my entire life. No one pays attention to history, especially prehistory.

It makes one wonder whether it is worth society investing in us if no one listens."

All the dialogue in Apocalypto is spoken in Yucatec, and the film this week recorded the most lucrative opening weekend for a foreign-language film in the UK.

In the film, Maya ransack a village and capture men to sacrifice them by ripping out their hearts.

Elizabeth Baquedano, honorary lecturer at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, said: "The film suggests that the Maya were blood-lovers, but they were not."

Roberta Pearson, director of the Institute of Film and Television Studies at Nottingham University, said Mr Gibson's priority would have been entertainment, not historical accuracy.

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