Amazon Studio’s Cortes y Moctezuma, a four-part Spanish language miniseries boasting high-profile talent such as Oscar winner Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), was ditched at the studio as a result of COVID-19. On September 3, Deadline released a statement from Amazon Studios and Amblin Partners, the studios involved in the production, breaking the news that they would formally be letting go of their joint “passion project”.
The miniseries was to focus on the clash between conquistador Hernan Cortez, played by Bardem, and Aztec King Montezuma II, played by Tenoch Huerta (Spectre, Get the Gringo), in 16th century Mexico, then the Aztec empire. In addition to Bardem and Tenoch, Yoshira Escarrega (Dani Who?, Here on Earth) and Juan Carlos Vellido (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) were attached to the series. The Y tu mama tambien team of Gael Garcia Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle) and Diego Luna (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) were set to produce, with Oscar winning production designer Eugenio Caballero (Pan’s Labyrinth, Roma) bringing the world of Cortes y Moctezuma to life. This all-star line-up was just the beginning of the costs this “epic” series was to accrue in production, via Deadline. “The massive production came with a massive price tag, said to be at the top of Amazon’s high-end TV budget range,” reported Deadline when they delivered the news of the series’ cancellation on Thursday.
The history behind-the-scenes at Cortes y Moctezuma is nearly as rich as the history it would have depicted on-screen. The famed screenwriter and alleged Communist, Dalton Trumbo, wrote the feature film Montezuma in the 1960s, a decade after being blacklisted from the entertainment industry as a result of his supposed political affiliations, via The Hollywood Reporter. In 2014, Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, The Irishman) was hired to adapt Trumbo’s original concept into a feature film, which Amblin Partners’ founder Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) was expected to direct, via Deadline. However, Amazon struck a straight-to-series order with Amblin in 2018 to produce Cortes y Moctezuma, which, at that juncture, had found its final form as a four-part miniseries.
Two weeks into filming on-location in Mexico, production on Cortes y Moctezuma came to an abrupt halt due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Deadline, the high-budget production included “elaborate sets built on multiple stages, intricate props, a backlot filled with exact replicas of pyramids and hundreds of extras.” The cost to maintain and, eventually, resume a production on that scale, after factoring in the 10% increase to cost from implementing new COVID-19 protocols, proved “prohibitively expensive” for Amazon, via Deadline.
In the middle of factoring these costly setbacks, a scandal loomed over the historic miniseries’ paused production. According to Variety, Cortes y Moctezuma co-director Ciro Guerra (Embrace the Serpent) faced a series of sexual misconduct accusations in June. Multiple women alleged that the director allegedly harassed them between 2013 and 2019, with one woman stepping forward to cite a specific instance of sexual assault. It’s unclear how production would have addressed this issue were it to have resumed, Deadline only reports that these claims bared no impact on the series financial-based decision to come to an end.
A portion of the remaining funds from Cortes y Moctezuma will be allocated to community restoration in the show’s filming locations. Amazon’s committed to leaving the on-site locations in Mexico “in the same or better state than when the series’ team arrived” (Deadline). The Xochimilco district, where Cortes y Moctezuma filmed, is considered a protected environmental space and also serves as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site. “Culturally authentic storytelling that is respectful to the heritage of local cultural communities,” was of the utmost importance to the crew of Cortes y Moctezuma, and protecting that heritage has remained a priority, despite the series’ cancellation, via Deadline.
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#WorldHeritage: The holy city of Teotihuacan (‘the place where the gods were created’) is situated some 50 km north-east of Mexico City. Built between the 1st and 7th centuries A.D., it is characterized by the vast size of its monuments – in particular, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, laid out on geometric and symbolic principles. As one of the most powerful cultural centres in Mesoamerica, Teotihuacan extended its cultural and artistic influence throughout the region, and even beyond. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/414
Cortes y Moctezuma joins Drunk History, I’m Sorry, I Am Not Okay with This and many others in the graveyard of show’s cancelled due to COVID-19. However, Deadline speculates that the story, which has been in development since the 1960s, might yet find a home somewhere down the line, based on the passion both studios harbor for the project.