Thailand takes on Hollywood over film that ‘humiliates’ Buddhism

First it was swimwear, now it is Hollywood. Five months after Thailand persuaded the fashion company Victoria’s Secret to remove images of the Buddha from a swimsuit, the predominantly Buddhist country is demanding a film advertisement showing a man sitting astride the head of a large statue of the Buddha be withdrawn.

Thai authorities have expressed outrage over a poster for Hollywood Buddha, an award-winning independent picture by a French film-maker. The film is about “a scrappy skewering of the absurdities of the Hollywood hustle,” according to a review in Movieline’s Hollywood Life. Thais believe the head – particularly that of a Buddha – is almost sacred and should not be touched. The poster shows Philippe Caland, the film’s writer, producer, director and star, sitting nonchalantly on the statue’s head.

Kiattikhun Chartprasert, a spokesman for the Thai foreign ministry, said the government had lodged an official complaint.

“We have asked our consul in Los Angeles to send a protest letter asking the company to pull those posters,” he said. “If they don’t respond, we will seek other means,” he added, without elaborating.

The government believes Caland wanted the advertising campaign to be provocative. “We can assume that the poster was not done because of his ignorance, but the producer deliberately intended to make the film promotion controversial to get public attention,” the deputy culture minister, Weerasak Kowsurat, said.

“The more controversial it has become, the bigger the audience the film will get.”

Thai parliamentarians are hoping to have the film banned in their country.

“Our representatives on the film censor board will do their best to ban the screening of the film in Thailand,” said Anongwan Thepsutin, the vice-chairwoman of the parliament’s religious affairs committee. “The poster is so offensive, I can’t imagine what the whole film will be like.”

Public attention was drawn to the film when a local newspaper, Matichon, published a photograph of the poster on its front page with the caption “Buddhism humiliated”.

Internet message boards have been inundated with complaints ever since.

The statue of the Buddha plays a key role in the film, which has won awards at several festivals and will be released in the US on September 24.

The 90-minute feature is about an out-of-luck film-maker whose fortunes improve when he starts saying mantras to a Buddha statue he has rented for £1,125 a month from a con artist.

Caland was not available to comment yesterday.


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Guardian Unlimited, UK
John Aglionby, South-east Asia correspondent
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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday September 9, 2004.
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