Mexico

It seems strange to bundle Mexico with the United States and Canada in North America when it would be so much more appropriate to include it in the Southern Americas.  The first thing that the watchful traveler learns on arrival in Mexico City is that the central cathedral on the Zocalo (main square) was built over the site of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán (say Ten–och–tit–lahn).  Huge pyramidal temples were dismantled and reused for the glory of the Catholic Church. The Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, made his way up from the Gulf of Mexico to conquer the Aztec capital in 1519, only sixteen years after Columbus made his fourth and final voyage, setting foot for the first time on the mainland at Panama and Honduras.

 The Spanish conquest of Mexico, along with the vanquishing of Maya territories in Central America and the Inca of Peru in 1532, are the pivotal dramas of the ancient Americas from Mexico southward. Hollywood has not given us many major motion pictures on this subject, partly, I suppose, because there are few heroes in these tales of subjugation.

There was one Hollywood attempt to portray the pre-contact Maya people at Chichen Itzá, which is today a cruise ship stop for those who can be lured to the Mexican shore for a history lesson.  Called Kings of the Sun (1963), it featured George Chakiris as the handsome young prince of Chichen Itzá, and Richard Basehart as the high priest. Yul Brynner is the warrior chief of a tribe on the far side of the Gulf of Mexico (It’s complicated. See Movies About Ancient Mexico below).

On the subject of Spanish conquest, you may want to see Cesar Romero as a prancing Cortes, and Tyrone Power as the title character in Captain from Castile (1947). There is a more serious non-Hollywood film that powerfully captures the tragedy at Tenochtitlán. Called The Other Conquest (2000), it narrates the fall of the Aztec empire through the eyes of the victims. It calls to mind Gary Jennings’ landmark Aztec novels, which have never been made into movies (for Apocalypto and the Columbus Movies, see Central America).

NOTE: Central America is geographically part of North America, but I have placed it under the Southern Americas leading cultural kinship outweigh geography. I would have done the same with Mexico but it was too much of a stretch.  I hope you will agree.


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