Viewers Are Calling Out Amazon For Whitewashing History With The New Series ‘Hernán’

This year marks 500 years since Hernán Cortes met Aztec emperor Moctezuma. The meeting marked the beginning of the violent and dark period known as Mexico’s Conquista. In honor of the, not so happy, anniversary Amazon Mexico and Latin America dropped a series based on the historic event. “Hernán,” follows the conquistador’s journey and retells everything that happened after docking his ship off the coast of Mexico, according to him, that is.

Mexico’s conquista was an important and violent chapter in history, one that transformed, not only one country, but the whole continent. The historic event is being revisited by the heavily publicized show “Hernán, La Serie.”

Credit: ishbelbautista / Instagram

For the first time ever, a TV show will be retelling the events that went down between Hernán Cortes and the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. Set in 1519, the series starring Óscar Jaenada, turns on the conquest of Mexico by Cortés and his troops and will be narrated by the Spanish conquistador as the protagonist of this momentous time in Mexico and Spain’s history. The sailor and explorer will be meeting important characters like Moctezuma, Alvarado, Olid and the infamous Malintzin or Malinche.

The Spanish actor Oscar Jaenada, stars as Cortes, as part of a mostly Spanish cast and crew.

Credit: ojaenada / Instagram

Jaenada leads a cast from Mexico and Spain including Víctor Clavijo (Captain Cristóbal de Olid), Michel Brown (Captain Alvarado), Dagoberto Gama (Moctezuma), Jorge Guerrero (Xiconténcatl), Almagro San Miguel (Captain Sandoval), Ishbel Bautista (Marina / Malinche) and Aura Garrido (Doña Juana).

Touted as the most expensive Hispanic series in history by Dopamine, “Hernán” was shot on location and on sets built in both Spain and Mexico, with special effects by El Ranchito, whose credits include “Game of Thrones.”

The filming of “Hernán,” in Xochimilco, left the Mexico City canals seriously damaged. 

Touted as the most expensive Hispanic series in history by Dopamine, “Hernán” was shot on location and on sets built in both Spain and Mexico, with special effects by El Ranchito, whose credits include “Game of Thrones.”

The series’ cast and crew took over an area of the famous canals of Mexico city to film a few key scenes. The environmental damage was so severe that the production was fined over 74 million Mexican pesos by Sedema (Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment).

People are not exactly happy with the representation of the great Aztec and indigenous characters. 

Credit: @eduardofake05 / Twitter

Some have found that the show doesn’t seem to do justice to historic records of what Moctezuma looked like. Chronicles describe the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma, as an opulent and imposing leader who wore rich feathers, gold, and gemstones. The series, however, present the emperor in a much more modest fashion —and the actor even sports a belly. “I’m complaining about how Moctezuma was depicted, a short man with a beer belly. Go to hell,” wrote one unimpressed Twitter user.  

Another thing that left us dumbfounded, was the fact that in 2019, the series is based on the Spanish POV, not the indigenous experience. 

Credit: @feli_chuy01 / Twitter

One viewer tweeted directly at the Mexican network that produced the show “@AztecaSiete Why tell the story of Hernan Cortes and give a Spaniard such an important role instead of making a show around Moctezuma or the Aztec people?” —As we know the colonial takeovers of the Americas, led by Hernan Cortes, ended in the death of millions of indigenous people and the forced assimilation of survivors. And we still need to see his side of the story?

Twitter users were quick to express their opinions. 

Credit: @joshcotera / Twitter

Many viewers were not impressed by the angle. A quick Twitter search will show more hundreds of threads unpacking the series. “Is it just me or is this show based on the Spanish experience. According to everything I’ve read, the series has a huge Spanish influence,” wrote one Twitter user, “I’d like to see a second part titled ‘Moctezuma’, and see the experience of the defeated. But of course, let’s watch ‘Hernán’ first,” he added sarcastically. 

By retelling the Conquistador’s account of history the series supports the whitewashed narrative perpetuated in public discourse and in schools, where children are taught simplistic and incomplete information about the conquest.

Credit: @sincorteza / Twitter

Thinking back to my own childhood, I was taught that Malinalli, or Malinche, fell in love with Cortes, and she betrayed her people by giving him Tenochtitlan. The true story must have been much more complex than that romanticized version and, tbh, the story sounds suspiciously similar to that of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith. The simplistic and incomplete narrative I and many other Mexican children have been taught obscures our understanding of history and demonizes an indigenous character by turning her into the bad guy, the traitor.

“Hernán” tells the story of the infamous man in 8 episodes through the perspective of Malinche, Moctezuma, Pedro Alvarado, Xicotencatl, Cristóbal de Olid, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, and Gonzalo de Sandoval, all important characters who were around him during the conquest of Mexico.

Credit: @sergiosarmiento / Twitter

“Hernán Cortes is a character that no one loves, not even the Spanish,” explained Jaenada in an interview. The Spanish actor who played the infamous Conquistador added that Hernán “was an explosive man, every place he set foot on, he burned to the ground and exploited.” The actor read countless books on the historical period to help build the complex character.

Jaenada first started reading up on Hernán Cortes close to a decade ago, when Javier Bardem first approached him about a series based on the conquistador, produced alongside Steven Spielberg.

Credit: @vibemagazine / Twitter

The story of Cortes and his exploits in Mexico have long fascinated Hollywood.

Last year, Amazon announced that it had greenlit a four-hour miniseries titled “Cortes” from Steven Spielberg and Amblin Television. To be toplined by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem, the series will be created for television and penned by Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), based on a five-decade-old movie script by screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. The proposed film titled “Montezuma” centered on the thorny relationship between Cortes and Aztec ruler Moctezuma II. HBO had also been developing a series about the conquistador.

As one Twitter user echoed the sentiment eloquently.

Credit: @clm / Twitter

We all know the story, and it’s our job to demand that it’s told with cultural and historical accuracy, not as a one-dimensional, romanticized story that is both harmful and simplistic.

READ: Descendants Of Both Hernán Cortés And Emperor Moctezuma Urge Mexicans To Move On From The Past 500 Years Later

Want To Learn About The Indigenous History Of Your Neighborhood? This New App Will Help You

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Want To Learn About The Indigenous History Of Your Neighborhood? This New App Will Help You

Native Lands

For all the (let’s be absolutely honest here!) banal uses of social media out there, sometimes developers use the geolocative capabilities of smartphones to make the world a more inclusive place. This app looks at the history of a place and reveals how it was originally organized by the traditional owners of the land before processes of colonization and dispossession reshaped the maps of what is now known as the Americas. Digital media allows us to visualize things that are already there, so next time you step on indigenous land you can quietly acknowledge it. 

Through location, the Native Land app lets you unearth the indigenous heritage of a place.

Credit: Native Land

The app was developed in Canada, a country which was a complex network of indigenous groups before French and British colonial powers redrew the map. The app can be accessed both through mobile devices (it works on iOS and Android) and through a browser based map. It includes key information such as a group’s language, name and whether the land was ceded (most likely by force or through a deceptive deal) through a treaty. It is a work in progress, so bear with the developers please!

They state before you even start looking for the indigenous past of a territory based on your postcode: “This map does not represent or intend to represent official or legal boundaries of any Indigenous nations. To learn about definitive boundaries, contact the nations in question. Also, this map is not perfect — it is a work in progress with tons of contributions from the community. Please send us fixes if you find errors”. So if you have information that the developers could use to make the app more precise, they are more than open to new findings that could make this collaborative tool a more accurate representation of the indigenous imprint on a place. Ready to find out more about the place that you call home? Click here

Remember: maps are only political and not set on stone, so the map you know was drawn by colonial powers.

Credit: Native Land

Contrary to what we might believe, maps are hardly set on stone. In fact, how a territory is named and where boundaries sit is evidence of historical processes through which lands are taken. Just look at this map of North America and think about all the blood that has been shed by the original owners of the land just so we can identify just three countries today. There were hundreds of discreet ethnic groups in Canada, Mexico and the United States before the European superpowers of Britain, France and Spain landed and created havoc. 

But the past is past, right? So why should we care? Well, we should care, a lot, particularly in today’s political climate. Let’s take this map of the California area as an example.

Credit: Native Land

So why is becoming familiar with the indigenous past of place important? Because it tells us that the borders that exist today are practically a human invention rather than something set on stone, and that unless you have indigenous heritage we are all guests. California, for example, was populated by a wide variety of peoples who were conquered by the Spanish or assimilated into mestizo culture through religion and language. So when white supremacists get all “America for the Americans” on Brown folk, they should be reminded that the land is and has always been indigenous. 

And this map of Australia is just nuts! Can you believe that colonial settlers have tried to make this country fully white and monolingual in the past?

Credit: Native Land

Australia is a young country that nevertheless has faced racism due to the aires de grandeza of some colonial settlers. Even though there has been a formal apology from the government towards aboriginal Australians, and there are constant acknowledgements to the fact that the land was never ceded, there remain great challenges to make the country truly inclusive for those who owned and thrived in the land in the first place. Just looking at this map makes you think of the wide variety of languages and traditions that existed in the island before the Dutch and English arrived

The ‘Sahuaraura’ Manuscript, An Ancient Peruvian Document That Was Thought Lost—Was Found Just Last Week, Over 100 Years Later

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The ‘Sahuaraura’ Manuscript, An Ancient Peruvian Document That Was Thought Lost—Was Found Just Last Week, Over 100 Years Later

BBC / Twitter

The Sahuaraura manuscript is considered a fundamental part of Peruvian history and culture. This piece Peruvian history, written by hand, was lost for a century and a half. Placed under the care of the then Public Library of Lima, the document disappeared in 1883 inexplicably—and now, over a hundred years later, it’s been found.

A part of the history of Peru, written by hand, was lost for a century and a half.

Peru National Library

During the Pacific War from (between 1879 and 1883), a manuscript of great value, was lost. Placed under the safekeeping of the then Public Library of Lima, the document was mysteriously lost.

“Recuerdos de la monarquía peruana, ó bosquejo de la historia de los incas”

Twitter @dossieroficial

The document titled “Recuerdos de la monarquía peruana,ó bosquejo de la historia de los incas” was a historical treaties written by hand by the priest, scholar and national hero, ‘Justo Sahuaraura Inca’, whom, it was believed, was a descendant of the sovereign, Huayna Capac, third Sapan Inka of the Inca Empire, born in Tumipampa and the second to last ruler over the Tahuantinsuyo empire.

The document disappeared for nearly 150 years.

twitter @bibliotecaperu

It wasn’t until 2015, when, by chance, the Sahuaraura manuscript was found thousands of kilometers away. The document was lost for nearly 150 years, nowhere to be found.

It was discovered in Brazil

instagram @shane.lassen.russlyonsedona

As it turned out, a family in Sao Paulo, had had it in their possession for over four decades —and hoped to sell it in the U.S. during a high profile auction by the renowned auction house, Sotheby’s.

Peruvian authorities are organizing an exhibition to show the document publicly in celebration of its return to Peru.

twitter @laurasolete123

After four years of formalities and paperwork, the Sahuaraura manuscript is finally back where it disappeared from, the now National Library of Perú. And to celebrate its return, authorities have organized an exhibition to show the document publicly for the first time. The return of the document took place just last week, and it was amongst 800 other historical and archaeological pieces including Incan ceramics, textiles and bibliographic materials that were all stolen decades ago —and that the Peruvian government finally located and retrieved from 6 different countries.

Of all the objects rescued, the manuscript holds a place of special importance for Peruvian history.

Peru National Library

The Sahuaraura text is considered a fundamental part of Peruvian historiography and the cultural value of the manuscript is ‘incalculable’. “Only this copy exists,” explained the Ministry of Peruvian Culture, Francesco Petrozzi, “and it tells us, very clearly, about a period in our history that we must all know about and study closely.”

It took, Sahuaraura, a member and descendant of the Incan noble family, years of research, consulting archives and documents —now lost— to be able to construct his primal history of Peru with data cited, very rarely, on other works about the arrival of Spanish conquistadors into this region of the continent.

The Sahuaraura manuscript includes an illustrated genealogy study.

twitter @peruturismo

The book also goes into great detail about the genealogy of the rulers of the vast pre-columbian territories that conformed the Incan empire with its capital in Cusco, which provides a huge insight into the history of the region to modern researchers.

The manuscript details Peruvian history, from the foundations of the empire, until the largest indigenous rebellion against Spanish rule in the region.

twitter @bibliotecaperu

The text starts from Manco Cápac, who was thought to be the first ruler and founder of the Incan culture, and follows history all the way up to Túpac Amaru, the indigenous leader who fronted the largest anti-colonial rebellion in Latin America in the XVIII century.

What is known of Sahuaraura, the scholar himself?

Museo Histórico Regional de Cusco

The priest and scholar is an icon of Peruvian culture and history. He was born towards the end of the XVIII century and he was the son of a leader of one of the regions of Cusco, which is why some chroniclers believe he belonged to the highest lines of Incan nobility.  He became a priest and joined the Catholic church, which named him synodal examiner of the bishopric and general liaison with six provinces of Cusco.

It is said that he received Simon Bolivar himself —a Venezuelan military and political leader who led the independence of what are currently the states of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama from the Spanish Empire —in his own house, and that the libertador gave him a medal for his services toward the freedom of Peru.

Sahuaraura also documented important literary works of the Incan empire in his works.

instagram @manu_elera

Among the many other manuscripts that the scholar worked on, and that also compile different aspects of Incan history, there is a literary anthology of the empire. This document includes the codex of Ollantay drama, considered by some, the most ancient expression of Quechua literature.

Sahuaraura himself went missing.

instagram @purochucho

Nothing is known about the death of this scholar. Sahuaraura himself went missing from Peruvian history at a time unknown. All that is known is that he retired somewhere in Cusco, and no one ever knew anything about him after. There is no information on the place or date of his death.