Anthropologist Defends Apocalypto
Scholar who worked on Gibson's film says he got it right

Prison Planet
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

We welcome Dr. Barbara MacLeod's passionate defense of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto based on sound research and evidence, rather than emotional hyperbole and the mental illness of the PC crowd. Alex Jones just considers himself somewhat of a buff on this subject and was questioned by some for defending the film as historically accurate. His argument is expertly supported by the following comments.

We consider Dr. MacLeod's rebuttal an excellent counter to the ravings of Julia Guernsey, who, in an interview with the Austin-American Statesman, excused human sacrifice as a "valid" and "pious act" done "with solemnity."

We are now contacting Dr. MacLeod in the hope of having her appear on The Alex Jones Show.

RELATED: Apocalypto: The Most Powerful Film Of All Time

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I am an academic (Ph.D., Anthropology, UT/Austin 1990, specializing in Mayan languages and hieroglyphic writing) and an expert on Yucatec Maya, the language in Apocalypto. I was hired by Mel Gibson to assist with post-production ADR for this movie in Los Angeles during the fall of 2006. This involved a lot of overdubbing and addition of off-camera lines over two months. I coached nearly all the principal actors and many others, got to know many of the Icon staff and had a lot of personal interaction with Mel.

I would like to forward a response I wrote to the the detractors--the film critics and the unhappy academics--and posted on another online board.

I am pasting it below. I'd be happy to have parts or all of it publicized by Alex if he's interested.

Dr. Barbara MacLeod

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On Dissin' Mel...

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I haven't seen the finished product yet, though during post-production I saw some scenes 20+ times, and over many work days saw most of it 5-6 times. I have some of the Yucatec dialogue memorized--the high priest's speech especially. I also saw the rough cut (minus the score and the special effects) at a secret screening in October. Apocalypto is a thrill ride, and that was its core premise--a high-adrenaline Precolumbian Native American foot chase. Mel said it was originally going to be a northern North America setting, but then he decided upon the Maya. The allegory developed as the story evolved.

Some of the academic Mayanists are offended that *their* view of the Maya (historically accurate, intellectually superior, politically correct) is not represented by someone else's fictional narrative. And the offense is exacerbated by the appearance of authenticity (to which yours truly contributed), so that the "unsuspecting public" (that is, you!!) will be suckered in. Horrors!!! We academics should instead shepherd you along the path to righteousness! And the issue of Maya blood sacrifice may still be a bit embarrassing to these folks (not to mention ancient Maya ritual torture--ripping off lower jaws from living captives, breaking fingers, binding alive in a ball and kicking down steps, etc.--none of which appears in the movie) and they would rather set up the Aztec straw man ("THEY did mass sacrifices, not OUR guys!") than face the truth of it...and then mask their own personal intolerance for gore with professional indignation at Mel Gibson's indulgence of it--which w!

As to be expected; that's part of his artistic palette. If they can't stomach it, fair enough, but let's be honest about it.

And of course the press eats this scorn up with titles like 'Bungle in the Jungle':

http://www.sfgate.com/

Dang. Didn't them ivy-covered types ever read comic books when they were kids?

I saw the heart-ripping-out scene a dozen or more times as we did the overdubs. One habituates quickly. Mel's personal haircutter was there cutting his hair (before the Diane Sawyer interview) while that scene repeated and repeated and she didn't faint or vomit, or gasp in horror. As she left, she was sworn to secrecy, tongue-in-cheek, by both Mel and myself. We were all laughing, believe it or not. But I still have my reality coordinates about me.

I am acutely aware of the parts of Apocalypto that are not authentic (five-minute eclipse, for example, and the merging of Preclassic mural art and Classic architecture into a Postclassic setting, the innocent forest-dwellers who have never heard of the big city, the high-rainforest mountainous landscape, and more), but I accept it and suspend disbelief just as I shrug off the incomplete representation of, say, American culture in a movie like The Firm, which makes all lawyers and law firms look utterly sleazy (heh, er, surely they aren't *all* that bad??).

So, in defense of Apocalypto, it is a visually stunning action-adventure film in an exotic setting, with blood aplenty, but it's far less gratuitous than the violence in many Hollywood films. Apart from the sheer numbers of victims (a real exaggeration), the violence is itself pretty authentic. That the Maya were far more than violent, that they were intellectually advanced with astonishing art, science, math and literature (which I can read in the original) and complex social organization--is indisputable. But when a filmmaker has two-plus hours to tell a story, there's a lot that has to be left out. And yes, the image of the Maya in the film is distorted so as to make the ponderous aristocracy into warlike villains who are themselves at the mercy of bloodthirsty gods. I am not so sure that's fiction, and I know a lot about them.

The final scene is, I think, what rankles all the PC advocates the most: the Spanish are coming! The Spanish are coming! --ah, to save the Maya from themselves.

The plague seen in the movie suggests that they have already brought smallpox. That's hardly salvation. In fact, smallpox reached Yucatan from Central Mexico before the white man arrived in Yucatan .

I see that final scene as a deliberate and wrenching twist of irony, recalling the lyrics of The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again:

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution

Take a bow for the new revolution

Smile and grin at the change all around

Pick up my guitar and play

Just like yesterday

Then I'll get on my knees and pray

We don't get fooled again

I'll move myself and my family aside

If we happen to be left half alive

I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky

For I know that the hypnotized never lie

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Forget the critics looking over their shoulders, and look at all the rave reviews Apocalypto is getting from viewers on Yahoo!. If you want a really unique and arousing experience and don't have a blood phobia, go see this movie.

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Dr. Barbara MacLeod's AV Web profile

Dr. Barbara MacLeod's research used by Duke University

 


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