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.
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.
This might just be the rare film that isn’t just telling an empowering story on-screen, but could actually help change attitudes toward indigenous people—especially Mayan women—in Guatemala. That’s enough to make it a must-see. And lucky us, it opened in the United States this fall. (Ixcanul | GLAMOUR)