A Hollywood film, released in 1952, that depicts the life of Emiliano Zapata, a key figure of the Mexican Revolution. Zapata fought for the right of indigenous peasants to cultivate land that wealthy landowners had effectively appropriated from them. The film was directed by Elia Kazan, one of Hollywood's most celebrated directors of the time, and scripted by John Steinbeck, whose importance to American literature is well known. A major production that flopped at the box office, it starred such notable actors as Marlon Brando (in the title role) and Anthony Quinn.
Viva Zapata! is interesting given the politics surrounding its release in 1952, a year in which McCarthyism reigned both in and outside of Washington D.C. Its hero is a man who expressed sympathy with anarchist ideals, and whose primary concern was radical land reform -- a central policy of the recently established People's Republic of China, dangerous in the eyes of an increasingly fascistic American government. Resting on shaky political ground, the film downplays these socialist and anarchist tendencies, presenting Zapata as a figurehead of bourgeoisie democratic values, although it is fairly clear that he was no such thing. Viva Zapata's producer, Darryl Zanuck (the 20th Century Fox mogul), and Kazan, a former Communist, managed to stuff the film with an unhealthy amount of propoganda supporting those democratic values and criticizing power hungry ideologues, who are clearly meant to be Communists. The film is racked by these inconsistencies and tensions, and is clearly a product of the political atmosphere of the time.
Kazan became famous for naming names of his former Communist colleagues before the House Un-American Activities Committee just a few months after the release of Viva Zapata!, and seems to have spent the rest of his life, including his famous film On the Waterfront, justifying that atrocious act.