Benefit preview of Mel Gibson's 'Apocalypto' plays to sellout crowd

By Bunmi Ishola

Transcript Staff Writer

The Riverwind Casino rolled out its red carpet this weekend as Mel Gibson made a special visit, bringing a little bit of Hollywood glamour to Oklahoma.

Hosted by the Chickasaw Nation, the casino held the first public showing of Mel Gibson's new film "Apocalypto" 8 p.m. Friday. The screening was part of the North American debut before the movie's Dec. 8 release.

Gov. Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation helped turn the showing into a special benefit event. The proceeds will go to the Lupus Foundation of America -- Oklahoma Chapter, the Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa, the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic and the Mayan people of Mexico.

"We're very pleased to support the Oklahoma Indian Clinic and the Health resource Center in Tulsa," Anoatubby said. "Both of these clinics provide vital services to American Indians in their respective clinics.

"Our mission has always been to enhance the overall quality of life of Chickasaw citizens. This kind of charitable event enables us to move beyond material benefits and instill a sense of pride and self-esteem in our citizens because they can see that we are supporting the community in which we live."

Gibson came to the Riverwind Casino in September, as he was test screening an early version of the film in front of Native American audiences. According to Riverwind Casino officials, Gibson visited many other casinos in the area but was especially pleased with Riverwind's facilities. He chose the Riverwind as the site for the first public showing of the film.

The tickets for the event cost $55 each, and all 12,000 available seats were sold, Riverwind media spokesperson Kym Koch said. The casino also received a total of $150,000 in corporate donations. That's over $800,000 raised, and Koch said more's to come.

"Mel (Gibson) said he'd match anything we raised," she said.

Gibson and film stars Rudy Youngblood and Raoul Trujillo were present at the showing. The film features all Native American actors, many of whom are local to the film's location and had never left their villages.

The movie's lead character Jaguar Paw, whose story is at the heart of "Apocalypto," is played by Rudy Youngblood. Youngblood is a Native American of the Comanche, Cree and Yaqui people. He was raised in Washington state, Texas and Arizona, spending some of his time living in the outskirts of Ada.

"Jaguar Paw is a lot like me," Youngblood said. "We're from different eras but very much the same person. He is strong. He's a giver, not a taker. He loves his family. He's respectful, and he learns in the course of the story not to be afraid. This is also what I have been taught in my culture."

The film takes viewers back to the last days of the legendary Maya kingdom. All of the dialogue is in the Yucatec language, the primary Mayan dialect spoken in the Yucatan peninsula today.

While portraying the society in its final days, Gibson said he wanted to include the concept of hope as well.

"The story of Jaguar Paw is the story of the spark of life that exists even in a culture of death," he said. "Every ending is also a new beginning."

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