An expanded version of my Indian Comics Irregular essay Road to El Dorado: Fool's Gold:
From the LA Times, 4/10/00:
Road to El Dorado Has No Respect for History
By OLIN TEZCATLIPOCA
Imagine that you are living a couple of centuries in the future, and you have never heard of World War II or Nazis. Further imagine that you are being shown a movie about the Nazi commandant (portrayed as a happy-go-lucky, romantic guy named Fritz) at a concentration camp. This is a "recreational" Jewish camp where everyone is picnicking and having a great time.
Fritz is constantly looking to get rich off the Jewish campers, and they freely offer him their gold fillings, Swiss savings accounts and other valuables. He meets an evil rabbi who wants the valuables for himself, and a beautiful Jewish girl who offers herself as a sex toy. Without ever mentioning World War II, Nazis or the Holocaust, the film ends with Fritz living happily ever after with the wealth he has acquired from the Jewish people at the camp.
This racist-sexist scenario of lies is the equivalent to what is being done to us, the indigenous people of Mexican and Central American descent, by the new animated film The Road to El Dorado.
Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks (the producer) and Universal Studios (the distributor) present the story of two Spaniards who stow away to the New World in the 16th century and wind up saving the village of El Dorado from a powerful priest intent on carrying out human sacrifices. This is an outrage, given the reality that the Spanish conquerors were responsible for the genocide of 23 million of our peopleókilling 95% of our population.
The film makes it look as if we were immoral and evil when it was the Spaniards who were immoral. They stole our gold, labor and land. They raped and culturally castrated our population, enslaving us to their Spanish names, language and interests.
DreamWorks is claiming that the film is a "complete fantasy fairy tale," but the scenario of the concentration camp above would never be accepted as a "complete fantasy fairy tale" by anyone. DreamWorks thinks it is acceptable here because the story is only about indigenous people. They have no respect for our peopleóno shame!
To target this racist-sexist poison to children, who know nothing about this history, should be considered a crime.
The Road to El Dorado must be removed from the market before it goes to video, cable and commercial television around the world. Spielberg, shame on you! Universal Studios, stop your distribution of this abomination.
If you don't know this history, read American Holocaust by David Stannard, Stolen Continents by Ronald Wright and A Little Matter of Genocide by Ward Churchill. These are the histories that should be taught in our schools today to ensure that racist films like this are never made again.
Olin Tezcatlipoca is Director of Mexica Movement, an indigenous rights education organization for people of Mexican and Central American descent.
Copyright © 2000 by Olin Tezcatlipoca, Mexica Movement
All rights reserved
Reprinted by permission
The Mexica Movement's open letter to Steven Spielberg
Another viewer's opinion
I saw The Road to El Dorado yesterday with my nephews and niece, at a sneak preview in the Chicago area. I left the theater feeling sick and angry about the horrible racist and sexist stereotypes depicted in this cartoon. I had to talk with my children for an hour so they could understand that what they had seen did not reflect any past nor current reality.
As a Mexican-American woman, I felt that the portrayal of the Indian characters in the movie was universally degrading to my gender and ethnicity; from the vacantly-expressioned childlike townspeople, to the scantily-clad loose-moraled heroine, to the bloodthirsty conniving priest, all portrayed the worst stereotypes that continue to hurt Indigenous and mestizo people today. While the Spanish heroes displayed full ranges of intellect, expression and physical ability, the Indians were all monofaceted, ignorant, sheeplike, and helpless. The religion of the Indians was shown as evil, fantastic, manipulative, and disconnected from the people, and by the end of the cartoon had apparently been thrown down by the noble Europeans.
Especially hurtful to me was the behavior and treatment of the "heroine"; the Spaniards even comment leeringly about her skimpy and revealing outfit, and she loses no time in offering herself to the White Man in exchange for a share of the gold. It is unbelievable to me that a Spielberg movie would perpetuate this horrible image of the Indigenous woman as a whore, especially in a children's movie!! I have extensive knowledge of the Indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica, and the dress of adult women in these living cultures is in fact demure, beautifully decorated, and often displays symbols of rank or marital status.
Furthermore, this movie perpetuates the myth that Europeans "discovered" America and took possession of a vacant pair of continents. For example, when Miguel and Tulio arrive at the shores of the "New World" they don't encounter any other humans until they find El Dorado. When they rescue the bumbling Indians from the evil priest and Cortez, they seemingly cut off El Dorado from the rest of the world forever. I realize that this is a children's movie, and that realistic depictions of the Spaniards' murder, rape, disease, and forced religious conversions of Indians would have been inappropriate for kids to see; however, this movie doesn't even suggest that there were any people of any importance in the "New World" until the Europeans arrived.
I could go on and on, but I will end by stating that I will encourage all my friends, relatives, and local media to boycott this horrible, damaging film. Certainly I will be contacting DreamWorks to voice my opinion as well.
Sara Vazquez, MD
Still more viewers' opinions
The new DreamWorks film The Road to El Dorado is by far one of the worst stereotypical cartoons I have ever seen. Must we continue to tolerate being portrayed as scantily clad redskinned savages?!? Above is a picture of the heroine of this film, obviously pulled from the perverse and demented fantasies of some wasicu with nothing better to do than to fantasize about what he believes native women looked like!
Robert Laughing Owl
The South East Texas chapter of the American Indian Movement declares this "movie" A DISGUSTING, REPREHENSIBLE PIECE OF TRASH! As long as we, and others are depicted in this inaccurate manner, as long as incorrect stereotypes are permitted to be reinforced through the media, our different cultures will never move closer to cooperation, and the understanding we all should have. That this is promoted, marketed, and rated as a CHILD's movie makes this effort all the more unacceptable, as studies have shown children inculcate much of their belief structure by age seven.
South East Texas AIM
More reactions from AIM members
Are these arguments about media stereotyping too narrowly focused, making them irrelevant to the rest of our lives? Naturally, I say no. Consider the most overhyped news story of the year: Elian Gonzalez.
What possible connection could Elian have to The Road to El Dorado, you ask? Just this: There's a direct line from the evil priest in the movie to the allegedly child-sacrificing, not-quite-human Fidel Castro. As we've done for centuries, we demonize that which we don't understand.
Stereotyping other cultures is an example of monocultural thinking. The conservative view of Castro is similarly myopic. When we learn to see the world in shades of gray, not black and white, we'll make progress toward real solutions, not sound bites.
Indiana Jones and the stereotypes of doom
The best Indian movies
"I look at the big picture. At least we're not invisible."
Why is Chel's voluptuous sexiness worse than athletic sexiness?
Amerinds "are a primitive but good people" in movie.
"The only fool is you sir."
Both the Spanish and Mesoamericans did things we'd consider barbaric.
"One of the Aztec priests...MURDERED 40,000 people (sacrifice) in ONE WEEKEND."
. . .
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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.
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