"Road to El Dorado": Fool's Gold
- Indian Comics Irregular #28
I haven't seen the new animated flick "The Road to El Dorado" yet,
but I have seen the commercials and trailers, the plot summaries, and
the reviews. They make it clear this movie is perhaps the worst
mass-media depiction of Native people in a decade. If "Pocahontas"
took two steps forward and one step back, "El Dorado" steps straight
off the edge of a cliff.
How does "El Dorado" go wrong? After seeing the movie, Sara Vazquez,
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.
What about the age-old argument that movies are harmless fantasies
not meant to be taken seriously? Olin Tezcatlipoca, director of the
Mexica Movement, addressed it in an LA Times article (4/10/00). He
compared "El Dorado" to a concentration camp caper in which
happy-go-lucky Fritz deals with an evil rabbi and a Jewish sex toy
without ever mentioning World War II, Nazis, or the Holocaust. His
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.
To mix metaphors, if this yellow brick "Road" was paved with good
intentions, it misses the gold by a mile. It doesn't even earn a
tarnished bronze. Whatever praise DreamWorks deserved for
undertaking a movie about Mesoamerican culture, in which Cortés is
the villain, the filmmakers forfeited it with the results.
Independently, Tezcatlipoca and Vazquez have called for a protest and
boycott of "El Dorado." For their views and more, visit
The Temptress as Role Model?
The ad campaign gives a good idea of "El Dorado's" lack of
authenticity. The Native woman, Chel, is dressed in a tube top, a
loincloth, and little else. As Vazquez noted, this is totally unlike
the conservative Mesoamerican woman's typical wear.
Some Latinos have called Chel another "hot and spicy" Native--a
hoochie-coochie mama. And this is the PG-rated version. Initially,
the movie featured "steamy love scenes and saucy outfits" for her,
according to the Times.
The animators claim they wanted to give Chel "a rounder shape and
make that an affirmation of being beautiful." That is, they wanted to
make her different from Pocahontas, Belle, and other Disney heroines.
From this you might surmise Chel isn't Playmate material like Sacheen
Wrong. The supposed role model is voluptuously sexy, which is
arguably worse than making her athletically sexy. So much for
progress in depicting Native people.
PEACE PARTY Wins Puffin Prize
On a more positive note, PEACE PARTY won a $500 grant from the Puffin
Foundation, which is dedicated to "continuing the dialogue between
art and the lives of ordinary people." This follows the $1,000 grant
PEACE PARTY earned in 1997. The people at Puffin, at least, know the
difference between serious art and stupid stereotyping.
Blue Corn Comics