‘Texas Rising’ Panned by Critics Unfairly?

Texas Rising

Texas Rising, the History Channel mini-series (May 25, at 9 p.m. EST) about the rise of Texas following the Battle of the Alamo, directed by Roland Joffé, is a look at the history of Texas that held a lot of promise. Critics have, largely, panned it, for both being uninteresting and full of cliches and stereotypical portrayals of Mexicans, Native Americans, and women, but has the movie been unfairly panned?

While racism and prejudice existed then as it does now, some critics have blamed the director of Texas Rising for contributing to the continuance of racism instead of trying to make the Mexicans, Native Americans and female characters in the mini-series more three dimensional. There is little doubt that many of the characters in Texas Rising and the Western genre, broadly speaking, have not been fully explored and end up being two dimensional caricatures.

That does not necessarily mean that the “history” that is presented is not real, though it is presented with a definite perspective that focuses more on the white, male “heroes” of Western history and legend. Texas and the West “rose” at the expenses of the people who already inhabited and had settled the land, the Mexican and Native Americans who were already living there. That is the reality of it, and the rise of Texas depicted in Texas Rising is really the rise of a Texas dominated by, in large part, white American and European settlers.

In order to justify taking over land that was already lived in and occupied by other groups of people, the white Americans and Europeans who continued to spread West considered what they were doing to be bringing civilization to the lands they were settling. They also thought of it from the perspective that they were the “good guys” and that they just wanted to make better lives for themselves, even if it meant fighting against anyone who tried to stop them from claiming territory that was already occupied.

It is not necessarily that actual history is not presented in Texas Rising. Just keep in mind, while watching it, that it is presented largely from the point of view of the white Americans and Europeans who took over the land. They get most of the lines, and they are considered the “heroes” of the mini-series. Their blood, sweat, and tears did help lead to the Texas and the America of today, for better or worse, even though it came at the expense of the people who already were living in the land.

A review in the New York Times criticizes Texas Rising because the characters are not depicted in an “interesting” way, at last not when compared to “the heroes of the American Revolution [who] died at the Alamo.” Most movies based on the Battle of the Alamo focus on the battle, itself, and the sacrifice of their own lives that the men occupying the Alamo made. That would probably make whatever followed relatively tame, by comparison, though the director of Texas Rising, Roland Joffé, who also directed The Killing Fields and The Mission, could be fairly criticized for not doing his best to also make the mini-series exciting and as action-packed as possible, if that was the case.

Sam Houston and Mexican General Santa Anna Primary Characters of Texas Rising

The military leader and statesman Sam Houston, played by Bill Paxton, and his travails against Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, played in the mini-series by Olivier Martinez are the two primary characters in Texas Rising, though the mini-series has a huge cast of characters. Though Houston and Santa Anna are the main two characters, the mini-series will be shown as a series of historical moments, or vignettes, all of which will lead to the conclusion of Texas Rising on June 15.

Some of the other characters who will be in the vignettes include the Texas Ranger Deaf smith, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He keeps to himself the fact that he has a serious disease. Cynthia Addai-Robinson plays a female character called the Yellow Rose of Texas. She is a spy who discovers useful information by seducing various Mexican military leaders.

Another interesting character in Texas Rising is Lorca, played by Ray Liotta. He emerges from a mass grave where the Battle of the Alamo took place and decides to engage in a guerrilla campaign. One of the most inventive ways he kills someone is by using a basket full of rattlesnakes. Also, Brendan Fraser, playing the Texas Ranger Billy Anderson who was raised by Native Americans, has some pithy and humorous lines.

Yet another character of note is Andrew Jackson, portrayed in Texas Rising by actor and musical artist, Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson provides the version of the Tom Petty hit, I Won’t Back Down, that was recorded for this mini-series, and there is a pretty cool video of it at YouTube.

The Viewers of Texas Rising Will Be the Ultimate Critics of the Mini-Series

The viewers of Texas Rising will be the ultimate critics of the mini-series, and if they continue to tune in after the first couple of episodes, and watch it to the conclusion on June 15, the mini-series will be considered to be a success, at least in terms of popular appeal. The viewers of America will be the ones who determine whether mini-series like Texas Rising are made in the future.

Despite the criticism made by some that director Roland Joffé paints his characters with a rather broad brush, drawing fairly clear distinctions between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” that was not how executive producer Leslie Greif, who also was the producer of the successful mini-series, Hatfields & McCoys, believes the characters are portrayed. Greif stated in an interview that they “wanted to try to tell the story from a lot of perspectives,” adding that “there are really no villains in our piece,” and “we didn’t want to have a paintbrush and say this side is right and this side is wrong.”

In Texas Rising, Sam Houston bides his time, trying to face General Santa Anna under conditions that will be favorable to him, though he leads less than a thousand men compared to the 5,000 veteran soldiers that are under Santa Anna’s command. Bill Paxton, who plays Sam Houston and was also in Hatfields & McCoys, said in an interview that the story of Texas Rising is “really the story of the Texas Revolution.”

Is the History Channel’s mini-series Texas Rising being unfairly panned by critics? Any review of anything is primarily a matter of opinion, but opinions that are based on facts, generally speaking. Director Roland Joffé and the mini-series have been criticized for not having some characters be fully developed, and for contributing to existing stereotypes by focusing on “good guys” like Sam Houston more than other ones, and for portraying Santa Anna as a basically “bad guy.” That was not, apparently, his intention; but, it is the opinion of some critics of Texas Rising. The viewing public will, ultimately, be the judges of if the mini-series is a success or not.

Opinion By Douglas Cobb

Sources:
New York Times: Review: ‘Texas Rising,’ a Mini-Series
on Alamo Aftermath With Dialogue to Forget
ABC News: TV Miniseries ‘Texas Rising’ Takes Big-Screen Approach
Entertainment Weekly (blog): Bill Paxton talks Texas Rising:
‘I believe I was born to play Sam Houston’