Mel Gibson was at the center of an uproar Thursday night at the Armer Theater in Manzanita Hall at CSUN when a Central American Studies professor spoke out against the way Mayans are depicted in Gibson’s film “Apocalypto.”
Central American Studies Professor Dr. Alicia Estrada asked Gibson if he understood the negative portrayal of Mayans in the film. Estrada went on to say that Mayans have suffered from death and poverty but were depicted as ignorant and bloodthirsty in the film.
Members of the Mayan community were present and Estrada passed the microphone to Mayan community leader Felipe Perez who read in Spanish, the Mayan community’s response to the film. Estrada translated, but because of the audience uproar, she could not be heard.
While Estrada and Perez spoke, CTVA students and others in the audience booed, yelled, “This is America, speak English!” and shouted for them to sit down and shut up.
Due to the yelling, Gibson said, “I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
Security personnel began pushing the speaker and turned off Perez’s microphone. Gibson said to let them talk, and the microphone was turned back on.
“I’m not offending you. I’m treating you with respect,” Estrada said.
Gibson responded with liberal use of the f-word. Audience members clapped and cheered, one even turning to Estrada and clapping in her face.
President of the Central American United Students Association Josue Guajan came to the event because he is a CTVA student.
“I thought there would be conflict but I did not expect this disrespect to Professor Estrada,” Guajan said.
Estrada said the film is blatantly racist, but Gibson responded by saying, “I don’t think it’s racist at all, and I resent you saying that it is.”
Estrada and Perez were escorted out, but not before Gibson said, “I think you’re a fucking troublemaker, so fuck off.”
The Mayan community response that Perez was reading to Gibson and the audience stated, “We believe that examining us using the lens of Western culture, you are describing us as savages and barbarians, which is the exact description of our cultures made by those who used rape, torture, murders, and massacres to subjugate us.”
The following afternoon Estrada said, “I never indirectly said anything about the film. I asked about his sources, which is a common question in academia. It’s a question you would expect in a university setting, especially in a Q’A portion of a screening.
“It was my first time watching the film and I was taken aback by all the violence,” she said.
Estrada said that she would appreciate not only an apology to her but also to the college and the Mayan community.
Another Mayan member of the community planned on speaking, but instead followed the pair out. Central American Studies major Amy Ulloa stood to walk out and said, “I’m from Central America and I am very offended by this movie, you jerk.”
Gibson’s camp told media outlets on Friday that Estrada was a “heckler.”
This exchange came after a few other questions from the audience, and some in attendance said they were grateful that Gibson stayed to talk after his conversation with Estrada. Gibson continued to talk about “Apocalypto” and his past career experiences.
“It took a long time because of the arduous nature of where we were, the terrain,” Gibson said, explaining the conditions under which he directed the film.
One audience member asked about how he kept scenes that featured chases interesting.
“If you’re going to see men running after each other, it’s going to be pretty boring if you don’t have a grab bag of variety,” Gibson said. “I’ve always been a fan of the chase. ? For me it’s really compelling.”
He added that it’s important to know in action scenes how to shoot the actors in an interesting way for the audience.
“You have to have the right rhythm, have a good idea of how to keep it going,” Gibson said.
Before Estrada spoke, Gibson addressed the fact that he has been accused of inaccuracies in the film.
“I got a bit of a hard time for accuracies, but that was bullshit,” he said. “I did my research.”
One student mentioned the fact that the film, which is subtitled, has sexual language and profanities, but Gibson said that the language was common in that era for the culture.
“Almost everything is sexual in reference,” he said. “They don’t say ‘balls,’ they say ‘the balls of the penis.’ ? Gutter language is encouraged.”
One member of the audience said that the film’s location was an idea of ethnographic film, which plays into the CTVA curriculum at CSUN, and noted Gibson’s use of “crisis” in his films.
“There’s no fun if there’s no crisis,” Gibson said. “This was supposed to be a small film, and in many ways it is, but it got (bigger).”
He said that Rudy Youngblood and Dalia Hernandez, the actors who played the main couple, were newcomers to actors, and said that while that made his direction process a bit more difficult, both performers were good.
“I found (Hernandez) in college,” he said. “She was doing dancing and trying to be a lawyer or something.”
Most of the rest of the cast were unknowns as well.
“Everybody was different, they all had different strengths and weaknesses,” Gibson said
Part of the problem in finding a cast was Gibson’s desire to stay true to the ethnicity of the characters. He said that he wanted the cast to look “indigenous, and believably so.”
Another student mentioned the title of the film, and noted the obvious similarity to “apocalypse.”
“It’s about a civilization that’s kind of coming to an end,” Gibson said, explaining why he chose that title for the film. “It’s on the cusp of a change.”
He said that he could find topics in the film that relate to our civilization today.
“There are many things common in any era to civilizations that are on the wane,” he said. “We’re killing our environment, having senseless wars.”
Gibson also talked about his experience directing both “Apocalypto” and other films.
“You have to start at basics (when you have an unexperienced cast), and give them something (that’s) not too complex,” he said. “The main thing is to breathe and relax. … Every emotion has a breath pattern. It’s really about emulating a breath pattern. But relax and then emulate it.”
Sam Womack and Hilda Yeghishian contributed to this article.