Upton Sinclair, who was a muckraker in the early twentieth century, initially funded the film, “Que Viva Mexico!” Since Sinclair was an activist and a defender of human rights (he wrote The Jungle in which industrialists subjected poor immigrants to terrible working conditions in the meatpacking industry), it makes sense that he would be behind a film which defends the rights of the Mexican people. The film, directed by Eisenstein, uses six montage sequences to portray the steps which led to the Mexican revolution: from the sufferings indigenous people faced to the future of a country where young mestizos controlled it. The film shows the destruction of the old order and the emergence of a new, populist order.
The old order included Porfirio Diaz and “Order and Progress.” Diaz was of indigenous ancestry, but his political policies greatly harmed indigenous people. In essence, Diaz was a dictator. He kept up the appearances of following a constitution, but he could do whatever he wanted. As part of that, he took public lands away from indigenous people. According to the textbook, Diaz made a lot of money off of his foreign contacts (just like any respectable dictator—take President Mubarek of Egypt). It said most latin american sugar, oil wells and deep shaft-mines were foreign-owned. For example, United Fruit Company (bananas), which was from the United States, employed white, American people in manager positions and hired “natives” to do the machete work.
Furthermore, indigenous people who worked on the mines lived in huts on the outskirts of the mines, and they barely had enough food to eat. On top of that, they faced managed elections. The textbook describes how landowners of these mines and sugar plantations rushed the “natives” to the polls to vote for whoever they wanted them to. In addition, there were voting limits on income and literacy. Since indigenous people weren’t given the opportunity of an education, they could not vote. It was the rich and middle class in the cities who received education (The Porfiriato: Order and Progress). As a result, the indigenous people suffered and were not represented in politics.
The film correctly portrays the divide between whites and the Spanish against indigenous people. In the fourth montage, The Maguey Cactus, the hacienda owner is Spanish and the peones, who end up taking up arms against the Spanish, are indigenous. The hacienda owners are ruthless, lazy and corrupt. The landlord rapes Maria, who was being examined before she could be married to Sebastian, and then imprisons her. Stephen Hart describes the notion of exploitation by the peasants who tirelessly suck the sap from the maguey cactus. The rich people at the hacienda quickly consume the drink in seconds. In addition, viewers are encouraged to pity the poor peones who are revolting against injustice.
The Maguey Cactus montage and the other montages show how the indigenous people suffered. According to Chris Robe in “Eisenstein in America,” the montage style portrays the idea that revolution depended upon the collective will of the people to join forces and transcend the patriarchal, capitalist ideology of modern Mexico. Eisenstein’s characterization is similar to a historical analysis of Latin America. The textbook describes the Diaz regime as exploitative of indigenous people. After independence, indigenous people slowly emerged in the city, and a mestizo population became the majority. They were able to have an education and be a part of the political process. It’s best summed up through the last montage in the film of the Day of the Dead. A little indigenous boy takes off his skeleton mask: he’s the future of Mexico.