Say it isn’t so.
Deadline is announcing speculation that Steven Spielberg has set his sights on directing Moctezuma, the epic tale of the clash between Mexico’s last Aztec emperor and the Spanish explorer who led the Spanish infiltration into Mexico and brought a whole civilization into submission.
I love Spielberg’s Jaws, ET, Schindler’s List, Indiana Jones, and of course his latest Lincoln, but for this story I think Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, and yes even Gregory Nava would bring more to the table. They are not only cinematic geniuses, but this is a story they know only too well. Yes I know, any filmmaker, especially a great filmmaker like Spielberg, should be able to do a terrific job. I am just saying I would rather see this film with the sensibilities of a del Toro, Cuaron or Nava.
I have seen far too many misses when telling a Latino story that does not speak strongly to the creatives. You can get a great director, cast Oscar winning talent, throw a lot of money into the production and still you might end up with these kinds of misses:
House of the Spirits (1993) directed by Bille August. Starring Mery Streep, Glen Close, Wynona Ryder, Jeremy Irons, Antonio Banderas. Made for $25 million; grossed $6 million domestically.
The Road to El Dorado, Animated film (2000) Directed by Bibo Bergeron, Will Finn, Don Paul, David Silverman. Voiced by: Kevin Kline, Benneth Branagh, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, Edward James Olmos. Made for $95 million; grossed $13 million domestically.
Love In the Time of Cholera (2007) directed by Mike Newell. Starring: Benjamin Bratt, Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, John Leguizamo, Fernanda Montenegro. Made for $44 million; grossed $4 million domestically.
Even Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (2006), which did better at the box office (made for $44 million; grossed $51 million domestically) than any of the aforementioned films and nominated for three Oscars, was still a financial disappointment, in spite of the major efforts Gibson went through for the casting and to get the look just right by utilizing over 70 persons in the art department, of which 3/4 were Latino.
As for the Moctezuma project, it is rumored that Javier Bardem is interested in playing Cortez. The project will work off a 50 years old script written by the late Oscar winning (and blacklisted) screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (to be rewritten by Steve Zaillian). The story will be told from the Spaniards POV with talk of renaming the project Cortez.
Full disclaimer, I brought up this same issue of having Latino creatives involved in Latino films back in 2010 when it was announced that Rudolfo Anaya’s Chicano classic novel Bless me Ultima was to be made into a film. Producing were Christy Walton and Melissa Leo, with Carl Franklin directing. I thought it would follow down the same path as the above mentioned films. I was proven wrong. With an excellent, almost all Latino cast, and a budget I am sure was more than the film grossed ($1.5 million), the end result was a beautiful lyrical film that really captured the novel.
So Steven Spielberg, I have just three words for you: Prove me wrong.