LOS ANGELES, Nov 3 (Reuters) Mel Gibson may have few friends left in the Jewish community but his upcoming movie ''Apocalypto'' could make him a hero with U S Latinos.
Gibson yesterday received an award from the Los Angeles-based Latin Business Association for his ''vision and courage'' in making his epic tale set in the ancient Mayan Indian empire -- a movie filmed in Mexico and with an all-Hispanic cast.
Showing a conference of Latino business leaders excerpts of the movie, the actor-director described the making of ''Apocalypto'' as a ''badge of honor for the Latino community.'' Gibson, who spurred outrage by going on a anti-Semitic rant this summer when arrested for drunk driving, called his Mayan-dialect story of human sacrifice an adventure movie.
He said it was inspired by his own interest in the Mayan civilization, which thrived more than 1,000 years ago in what is now Mexico and Central America. The film is set for release in early December.
He said he spent eight months casting the movie, choosing performers -- some of them Mayans -- who had mostly never acted before. The movie has no star names and most of the crew, including make-up and costume artists and set designers, were also recruited in Mexico.
''It was tantamount to being at the Super Bowl and getting your quarterback from the audience,'' he admitted. ''But they scored touchdown after touchdown. I don't know why no one has gone down there before.'' CULTURAL PRIDE Presenting the award, Latin Business Association chairman Rick Sarmiento said that at a time of anti-Latino rhetoric in the United States, the movie had made him ''feel extremely proud of everything to do with our culture.'' Latinos are the fastest growing minority in the United States with a population expected to reach 49 million by the end of the decade. But rising Latino influence and purchasing power is clouded by a divisive national debate over illegal immigration, much of it from Latin America.
Gibson's appearance at the luncheon was part of a bid to reach out to a target audience in promoting his 30 million dollars movie, which was seen as a marketing challenge even before his drunken, anti-Semitic outburst in July.
The 50-year-old Oscar winner checked himself to an alcohol rehabilitation center and has apologised, saying he was ashamed of telling police that ''Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.'' Two years ago Gibson had to fight off charges of anti-Semitism surrounding his film ''The Passion of the Christ'' -- also a deeply personal project -- which despite initial scepticism over its Aramaic and Latin language grossed 611 million dollars worldwide.
Gibson, a devout Roman Catholic, said the Mayan civilisation had always intrigued him, although little was known about it in the industrial Western world.
''It is generally a conceit of filmmakers that history only began with Europeans,'' he said.
''Apocalypto,'' he said ''is not really a Hollywood production.
It is a film made by Mexico.'' Reuters SHB DB1104