Día de Muertos & “Garden Of The Gods”

The character Felix in Garden of the Gods doesn’t have much understanding of the traditions of Día de los Muertos. Does he deserve to die for his insensitivity?

The Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) is a holiday with deep roots in Mexican culture, dating back before Spanish colonization in the 16th century, when the Mexica or Aztec empire held sway. Tradition holds that Día de Muertos is a time when the spirits of the dead return to visit their loved ones. Though the holiday is now commonly celebrated at the end of October and coincides with both Halloween and All Saints Day, it is meant to be a cheerful rather than a frightening observance.

Living family members prepare food and drink for the departed spirits, and offer them on altars (ofrendas) that may also include photographs of the deceased, Mexican marigolds (Flor de muerto), and painted sugar skulls. Celebrants also often paint their faces to resemble sugar skulls. Families clean the graves of their loved ones and even picnic in cemeteries where they are buried. They tell stories and offer their memories of the dead.

The celebration was originally most common in Central and South Mexico, but it has now spread throughout the Americas. Several cities in the United States with a significant Mexican diaspora, including El Paso and San Francisco, have large celebrations. Birmingham, Alabama, even has a popular observance called Día de los Muertos, Alabama, which has been growing since it was first celebrated in 2002 and now attracts thousands of celebrants.

Our film Garden of the Gods opens at a party with a Day of the Dead theme. Although the partygoers are diverse, however, the hosts have missed some of the holiday’s finer points. There are no altars to remember the dead or invite them to return. The color scheme is the traditional orange, yellow, red, and black, but there are few marigolds and no food. And elements alien to Mexican celebrations are mixed into the decor, including paper lanterns and tiki torches.

Felix, one of the film’s two main characters, misses the mark by an even wider margin. He wears a large, cheap sombrero, but he has skipped the face paint. The sum total of his costume effort is a T-shirt that presents him as a “dead mariachi.” He seems to have merely combined Anglo-Halloween skeletons with his unconsidered stereotypes of Mexican culture, and this holiday is nothing more than a good excuse to drink.

If you’ve read the end of “The Cask of Amontillado,” you know that Felix’s fate is basically sealed as soon as he leaves the party with Mike (a young man quietly but fiercely proud of his Mexican heritage). We don’t want to spoil the ending — but let’s just say that Felix won’t be around next year, or even next week, to wear another insensitive costume.

One of the issues raised by the film is cultural appropriation. We hope you’ll join us in supporting the film and watching the finished version so you can see the interactions between Felix and Mike and wrestle with — and perhaps answer — these very questions.

— By Katie Boyer

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Kyle Mackenzie Sullivan

Kyle Mackenzie Sullivan

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Filmmaker, Photographer, &, Armchair Anthropologist. Lover of books, languages, science & extinct nations. Creator of Trekspertise & The Wikisurfer podcast.