Many thanks to Kevin James for the transcript

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Xpose #35

Xena: Warrior Princess

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thm_X35-a.jpg (5943 bytes)YOU may not have heard the news yet, but Xena didn't make it out of India unscathed. Due to the protests I of several Hindu groups, Renaissance Pictures has pulled the Xena: Warrior Princess episode The Way from syndication. If you live someplace where it hasn't aired yet, like Great Britain, or if you missed it the first time around, you may never get a chance to see it. This episode capped off a multipart story line known by fans as the 'India' episodes. What was so offensive that it had to be taken off the air? Who wanted it removed? What happens now? We've got the answers.

This isn't the first time Xena has found herself in hot water. It seems like the show is a lightning rodthm_X35-b.jpg (5397 bytes) for controversy. If it isn't the show's content that troubles some people, then it is the show's subtext, and as if that weren't enough, even the off-screen actions of the stars can draw unwanted attention.

Lucy Lawless herself seems to attract attention no matter what she does. When the show first began, the press was quick to latch onto Lawless' past as a gold miner in the Australian outback. Since then, her marriage to executive producer Rob Tapert and her pregnancy have drawn headlines as well. When the good news isn't on the front page, it seems that Lawless's accidents draw unwanted attention to the show. Of course many people know about her fall off a horse that almost axed season three. Even more scandalously, Lawless managed to 'bust' out of her costume in front of an audience of thousands while singing the American national anthem. The embarrassing event occurred at a hockey game between the Mighty Ducks and the Red Wings in Anaheim back in 1997.

All of these news bits pale compared to the two biggest complaints about Xena: sex and violence. Xena has developed a reputation for being, well, a lesbian. The show is popular among the gay community and even the actors and producers admit to some conscious effort on their part to show this side of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship. Gabrielle herself confessed in a recent interview with Renee O'Conner in TV Guide:

"There was a time when we played with the idea just being silly," O'Conner said.

Even more forcefully, producer Liz Friedman spoke out in Entertainment Weekly in 1997, "I don't have any interest in saying they're heterosexuals. That's just bullshit and no fun either."

Some churches and religious organisations have gone so far as to protest the relationship and suggest their congregations not watch the Warrior Princess.

thm_X35-c.jpg (5662 bytes)While the homosexuality issue has raised some hackles amongst homophobes and conservatives, the violence in some Xena episodes has actually changed how the show has been aired. The first season episode Is There A doctor In the House? was pushed to the end of the season while it was edited and reedited to reduce the violent content. Some syndicated stations choose to air the more violent episodes later at night, and UK stations have even requested some episodes be further edited for violent content.

Because of the violence it contained Global TV of Canada pulled the very same episode that has sparked the Hindu controversy. In The Way Xena manages to have both arms lopped off during a particularly grisly and ruthless battle. According to Global senior publicist Shea Warrington, "We pulled it because of violence, not because of religious objections." In spite of the previous controversies the show has been through, this most recent flak about the depiction of Hindu deities in Xena: Warrior Princess definitely caught the show's producers by surprise. Executive producer Rob Tapert has said, "We would have changed the episode in a heartbeat if we'd known this would happen."

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By the time the episode had aired in the United States, it had already been targeted by the World Vaishnavas Association (WVA) and American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD). The two primary complaints were that Krishna was depicted as a fictional being and the episode implied that the Hindu religion endorsees homosexuality.

thm_X35-e.jpg (5841 bytes)According to a joint press release by the WVA and AHAD, 'This episode treats Lord Krishna and Hanuman as fictional characters putting words in their mouth they never spoke and having them engage in activities that they never engaged in.

Rennissance Pictures was quick to respond. First, they consulted with Sunil Aghi of the Indo-Americans Political Foundation and offered to pull the episode from release. Second, they said that they would consult with Aghi on re-editing the episode before it was broadcast again. Additionally, they apologised to the Hindu community for the depiction of Krishna when they announced these concessions in a press release on April 2 1999.

'It has become evident that the advice we received was not in line with Hindu Beliefs,' the statement reads. 'We are genuinely sorry that we have offended members of the Hindu community and have no plans to produce any future episodes involving Hindu deities or personas. Because production constraints make it impossible to change The Way now, we will pull the episode from worldwide syndication. If we later decide to air it again, we would first contact Sunil Aghi, founder and president of the Indo-Americans Political Foundation, to discuss the specific alterations that would need to be made.'

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This press release did not address the protester's complaints about Krishna's acceptance of Xena's perceived homosexuality. On April 6 1999 executive producer Rob Tapert released a letter directly addressing the homosexual facet of this controversy.

'Every critic has a personal agenda,' Tapert said. 'Many agendas are worthy of consideration. However, those born out of bigotry and intolerance must be fought. To those Hindus we offended, our apology stands. To those with an agenda of intolerance, this is not a victory.'

According to Tusta Krishnadas of the World Vaishnavas Association, this apology is not enough.

"We've got the main things we asked for, and we are very happy about that," Krishnadas said. "However, we obviously haven't changed their hearts and attitudes. It is clear that they still have no respect for the Hindus they offended."

Xena isn't alone in facing the wrath of the Hindu community. Recently, a diverse group of entertainers and showmen including Madonna, Aerosmith, Mike Myers and Pat Robertson have been targeted by Hindu groups for various perceived slights and infractions. Madonna got into hot water when she appeared on MTV's Video Music Awards in the body paint known as the Mehendi. An Aerosmith album cover disparaged Ganesh. Pat Robertson is cited for his tirades against "hindoos," and Mike Myers got into trouble when he appeared in Vanity Fair dressed as a Hindu Demigod.

Not all Hindus agree on these protests however. Achal Mehra of wrote a highly critical editorial that called fellow Hindus to task for their inappropriate and disproportionate reactions to these issues. Dr Ravi Palat, who was cited in t he Renaissance press release for providing advice to the production of The Way, was not impressed by the protest either.

"I found [the controversy] strange, because there are hundreds of movies made every year which portray Hindu deities as fictional characters," he said. 'There is a whole variety of texts which are played around with, because there is no definitive version. Every movie or story about the gods, then, is in a sense fictional."

Considering the number of deities and religious icons Xena and Hercules deal with on a regular basis, this decision opens a gigantic can of theological worms. If you think the religious backlash from Hindu fundamentalists was bad, wait until the Southern Baptists see Xena and Gabrielle crucified at the end of this season! The religious overtones of the show and foreshadowing have been building to a very powerful Christ-like image of Gabrielle and the Warrior Princess on the cross. Is Renaissance Pictures going to fold every time an interest group protests?

What did you miss if you missed The Way? Well, first, you missed the culmination of the India story line. If you wondered what became of Eli or what all of this soul-searching debate on peace versus violence was leading up to, then you would have found your answers in The Way. Xena learns from Eli how to pray to Krishna to gain the power to defeat the demon lord Indrajit. It is a very powerful confrontation for both Xena and Gabrielle and in the end, Gabrielle gives up her staff and her violent ways for good. Without this episode, the India story line is left unconcluded. Later developments, such as Gabrielle's new outfit, her renunciation of violence and her use of the powder box in The Convert make no sense.

If you would like to see The Way, or if you feel that Renaissance Pictures acted hastily, then there is something you can do. Catherine M Wilson has started a web site, petition, and write-in campaign to restore the episode. Go to:

or write Studios USA or Renaissance Pictures directly. Just ask yourself: 'What would Xena do!'

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