How accurate is the depiction of the Maya in the film 'Apocalypto'?
I think this film gets a lot of flack it doesn't deserve.
First, let's praise it for what it is. An action-adventure film that doesn't rely on much CGI but a whole lot of well-done practical effects and elaborate sets.
Second, the cast uses indigenous people of North America in the roles, and it has them speaking a dialect of Mayan, and not English or some silly accented English to make use ‘feel their nativeness'.
There was major misunderstanding about the time in which the film is set. It is set shortly after FIRST CONTACT with Europeans (Columbus's last voyage having got to Mexico before the time in which this film is set).
Some charged that the film appeared to be depicting Mayan civilization at the end of its classical period or after it, in some sort of slide into a dark age. But that is clearly not the case. The film tells you at the very beginning it is early 1500s. What is depicted is a recreation of one Mayan city state (there were many) at that time. A major one might have revived some of its classic structures and trappings. So it is supposed to be a large, prospering (but troubled) city state that has revived classical appearances-and by accounts from the time, there were such city states.
The biggest controversy was over the depiction of human sacrifice. And here scholars disagree. The ones Gibson consulted said there was sacrifice, it was not unique to Aztecs. And that at that time, in certain Mayan cities, they were under the influence of the Aztec civilization.
I think it is a great film that tries to show realistically how normal humans can rise to heroic status and overcome great odds. It is thrilling. Mexican audiences, and many American Hispanic and Native / Indigenous loved the film. I think because they can see THEIR PEOPLE being depicted instead of the usual non-natives.