VIVA ZAPATA – 1952 - movie - A Classic Review - directed by Elia Kazan – screenplay by John Steinbeck – based upon Steinbeck’s book “Zapata” and a book by Edgcomb Pinchon “Zapata The Unconquerable – players are: Emiliano Zapata Salazar (Marlon Brando), Josefa (Jean Peters), Eufemio Zapata (Anthony Quinn), Poncho Villa (Alan Reed), Francisco Madero (Harold Gordon), Fernando Aguirre (Joseph Wiseman), Porfirio Diaz (Fay Roope), Madero (Harold Gordon)
May I point out, there is not one Latino name in the entire cast. However. Anthony Quinn got an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor pretending to be a Mexican. Also, I might add....not one foot of film was shot in Mexico.... such were the times.
The movie takes place in the years between 1911 and 1919. It is about Emiliano Zapata and his role in the rebellion against the corrupt leadership of Mexico’s rulers, and Zapata’s campaign to establish land reform.
Let’s set this up historically: In 1910, although he was corrupt and oppressive, Porfirio Diaz led Mexico through a 35 year period of prosperity. He was now being challen-
ged in an election by Francisco Madero, the writer and revolutionary who inspired Emiliano Zapata.
The election was rigged by Diaz, which led to a revolt, a new election was held, and Madero was finally elected in 1911. But in 1913, after he reneged on his promised land reform, dispossessed farmers and disgruntled revolutionaries forced him to resign.
However, huge profits where being made by cash-copping sugar cane and the rich land owners where taking all the suitable land from local farmers. Backed by U.S. sugar pro-cessors the counter-revolutionary General Victoriano Huerta, was put in office and ruled until 1914.
Next... Venustiano Carranza, with the help of the revolutionaries Poncho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, took over when it seemed the new rulers couldn’t agree on much of anything. Although Carranza was a rich land owner, he was also a previous supporter of
the revolutionary Madero. Unfortunately he also did not install the land reform as expec-ted. He was a lot more conservative than either Zapata or Villa realized and as a result they refused to support him further and returned to guerrilla warfare.
And this was the political setting into which Emiliano Zapata was born and lived. In fact he was born on a sugar-cane plantation where his father worked and raised horses on the side. Zapata was not illiterate as portrayed in the movie. He was schooled in book keeping and at 16 took over as head of the family when his father died. He became a successful entrepreneur, raising horses and farming, while continuing to work on the sugar plantation.
When he and his group of farmers protested to Porfirio Diaz, they were all arrested and Zapata was con-scripted into the army where he used that time to strengthen his political position.
He, along with Poncho Villa con-tinued to support land reform, wag-ing guerilla warfare throughout the regimes of Francisco Madero, General Victoriano Huerta, and Venustiano Carranza.
In the last 5 minutes of the film the heavy wheels of Hollywood story-telling tradition roll forward in predictable and unstoppable fashion. And as you might expect, they left out Zapata’s most important accom-plishment. In 1920, well after Zapata’s assassination the year before, his supporters took over the local state government, where they redistributed the land and put his plan for agrarian reform in place….