by Shay Maunz: In Guatemala today, something like half of the population is indigenous Mayan, but those people exist on the fringes of society…
cut off from their country by racism and, often, a language barrier—the country’s official language is Spanish, and many Mayans speak one of their many native languages. Mayan women face double discrimination: First for their culture, and then for their gender.
Which is what makes the newest hit movie out of Guatemala so spectacular.
The film, Ixcanul, is a coming-of-age story about Maria, a shy 17-year-old Mayan girl who lives with her parents on a coffee plantation at the foot of an active volcano in Guatemala. It stars María Mercedes Coroy, who is a young Mayan woman herself—most of the actors, in fact, are Mayans who were cast out of their local communities and then trained as actors. The film is in Kaqchikel, a language spoken by some indigenous Mayans, including Coroy. The director, 38-year-old Jayro Bustamante, grew up in this part of Guatemala and learned Kaqchikel from his nanny—though he says he was warned not to use it in public, for fear of getting bullied.
But despite all the prejudice against indigenous people in Guatemala, the film has been a tremendous hit both in that country and on the overseas film festival circuit. And it’s not hard to see why: The film is gritty and gorgeous, steeped in quiet suspense.
The movie has made Coroy a star in her country—a huge feat for an indigenous woman there. This spring, she even became the first Mayan woman to grace the cover of a Guatemalan fashion magazine. And Ixcanul is the first Guatemalan film that has ever been nominated for the Academy Awards, in the foreign film category.