COLUMBIA — Mel Gibson’s 2006 movie “Apocalypto” ignited a number of controversies. The Guatemalan presidential commissioner on racism lambasted the film as racist against Mayans. Anthropologists and archaeologists wrangled over the plot’s historical accuracy.
Now, the film will fuel a panel discussion at the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology on Thursday held in conjunction with its special exhibition “Before Columbus: Iconography of the Ancient Americas.” In “Apocalypto Now: Second Looks at Mythic History,” topics to be discussed include archaeology and Hollywood’s portrayal of indigenous cultures.
The film is scheduled to be screened afterward. Set just before the fall of the Mayan civilization, “Apocalypto” follows a Mayan man as he attempts to escape from captors who want to use him as a human sacrifice.
The event is an effort to round out popular culture’s interpretation of Mayan civilization with a little input from the academic world, said W. Arthur Mehrhoff, academic coordinator at the museum.
“If you look at the film jacket, it says it’s a historical epic,” Mehrhoff said. “The question is, how historical is it? What can research and scholarship about pre-Columbian people do to help us understand a film like ‘Apocalypto’?”
The “Before Columbus” exhibition features an assortment of artifacts from ancient civilizations from South America to Central Missouri. The pieces showcase the complex and interconnected symbolic systems people such as the Mayans used to communicate hundreds, even thousands of years ago.
“There are a lot of things going on that relate to our exhibition and come together in the film,” Mehrhoff said.
He added that the movie panel offers a chance to tie the exhibit together with the pulse of pop culture. People have taken a recent interest in the Mayans, he said, because the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, promoting a host of urban legends about the end of the world.
“We think it’s important to try and go beyond just doing an exhibition,” Mehrhoff said. “It’s relating the exhibit to some very powerful attitudes people have right now.”
Coming Saturday: The story of a mysterious artifact that is part of the “Before Columbus” exhibit at the Museum of Art and Archaeology.