Sunday, February 15, 2009

Which one was the barbarian?

When I was in my early twenties and majoring in French, I spent a year in France as a foreign student. Among the many French people and foreign students whom I met in the dorms was a group of men and women from Thailand, and one interesting fact that I learned from them was that the movie "The King and I" had been banned in Thailand because it was considered an insult to the royal family.

Fast-forward over 35 years. Last night, flipping through the channels, my husband chanced upon "The King and I." We started watching the movie at the point at which the king was trying to figure out how to impress the soon-to-visit British diplomatic delegation and convince them that he was not a barbarian. After about 10 minutes of watching Anna feed the king ideas as if he didn't have an ounce of intelligence, I got fed up with the scriptwriter's condescending attitude and went to bed.

No wonder this movie was banned in Thailand.

My husband tells me that the book on which the Broadway musical, and, later, the movie, were based, "Anna and the King of Siam," portrayed the king in a much better light, showing him as a man determined to improve the education of his people so that they would not be subjected to colonization by Europeans who deemed themselves superior. He succeeded: Though Thailand came under strong British influence, it's the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized.

So who was the barbarian?


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