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Roland Emmerich is Returning to the Subject of the Maya Civlization

Emmerich’s ‘2012’ was based on the Maya’s supposed prophecy for the end of the whole world. Now, he’s going back to the 1500s to show the near destruction of theirs.
Roland Emmerich Directing
By  · Published on February 15th, 2018

Emmerich’s ‘2012’ was based on the Maya’s supposed prophecy for the end of the whole world. Now, he’s going back to the 1500s to show the near destruction of theirs.

Roland Emmerich, a master of the big-budget action-disaster genre film, is going back in time. According to Deadline, he will direct Maya Lord, a period piece set in the 1500s in the Yucatan Peninsula. The movie will follow two European men, one a soldier and one a priest, after they survive a shipwreck and are captured by local Mayans. In a classic split, one of the men invests in the new culture and the other rebels against it. When the rest of the Conquistadors arrive, their paths will surely diverge.

Particularly challenging for Emmerich is the plan to go straight from production on his next movie, the $100 million World War II drama Midway, to shooting Maya Lord. He hopes to get started by September of this year, so there’ll be a bit of a gap before we get a chance to see this on the big screen. While he routinely operates in the world of big-budget, big-set films, ramping up on another production so soon has to be daunting.

Emmerich is no stranger to the Mayans, of course. His disaster movie 2012 references the Mayan calendar and the New Age belief that the world was to end in the titular year. With his latest, he’ll be going all the way back to when the Central American civilization was thriving. Emmerich is also not just about disaster movies, as has already directed his fair share of historical pieces, including The Patriot10,000 BC, and Stonewall. Even Stargate is a sort of historical epic mashed up with aliens.

Regardless of time period, Emmerich makes the kind of popcorn movies that put butts in seats for the big screen spectacle. Worldwide, his films have a combined box office haul of around $4 billion. His Independence Day is practically the classic American spectacle. The recent sequel, his last directorial effort, is sadly less remembered, with more than a few plot issues. But it’s still worth wondering if an exploration of the Mayan culture is the right setting for a big budget spectacle.

The last film directly featuring the Mayan people was a full-immersion experience from Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. That was a box-office winner, for sure, even with it featuring the Indigenous Yucatec Maya language. But there were more than a few criticisms about Gibson’s depiction of the Maya, which mostly came down to the movie focusing on the Mayan peoples’ comfort with carnage rather than also looking at their significant technological or artistic achievements. There aren’t too many films out there featuring the Mayan people, their culture, or their language, so representation matters.

Emmerich is biting off a significant challenge. Perhaps having a soldier and a priest explore the Mayan world will afford Emmerich the opportunity to be a bit more nuanced in his depiction of the culture. At the least we will certainly see the savagery of the Conquistadors making their way through the continent.

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Writer for Film School Rejects. He currently lives in Virginia, where he is very proud of his three kids, wife, and projector. Co-Dork on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast.