Hardliners in the movement for a free Tibet have sometimes criticised the Dalai Lama for his preoccupation with wooing Hollywood to the Tibetan cause. But there is no doubt that leading Western cinestars have been in the forefront of keeping the issue alive.
Tibet saw its biggest Hollywood year back in 1997. A concert album, a documentary, a TV special and two heavyweight releases in the form of Martin Scorsese’s Kundun and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Seven Years in Tibet made the country's freedom from Chinese rule a cause celebre as never before. Both Scorsese and Annaud’s films project an idealised image of the Dalai Lama as an extraordinarily compassionate and inspirational figure.
Follwing the recent upsurge ardent Tibet supporter Uma Thurman rejoiced: “After working in the trenches so long, we’re thrilled that Tibet’s become so big.” US newspaper headlines screamed different versions of, “Can Hollywood save Tibet?”
Such avowals were no doubt hyperbolic. But to the celebrities’ credit, while the media focus on Tibet has ebbed and flowed, they have remained steadfastly committed. In 1998 Richard Gere, foremost among Hollywood’s Tibet champions, was joined by Harrison Ford, Goldie Hawn, Julia Roberts and others to make an Emmy nominated public service video called Why are we silent? championing Tibet’s freedom.
But all things that Hollywood takes seriously, it also serves up as fodder for comedy. And Tibet is no exception. Hence the Eddie Murphy funny flick called The Golden Child, which is all about how a Tibetan holy child kidnapped by evil forces is fantastically rescued by a Los Angeles investigator.
Hence also an exceptionally peculiar moment in the TV drama Twin Peaks directed by David Lynch: the central protagonist, a detective, claims to have acquired special deductive powers in the same dream as the one in which he became “deeply moved by the plight of the Tibetan people”.
Musicians like Alanis Morissette, Sting, Paul Simon and Philip Glass, and bands ranging from the Beastie Boys and Radiohead to REM have also joined the bandwagon. Of course the singer who has grabbed the latest headlines was the Icelandic singer Björk, who recently disconcerted Chinese authorities by ending a Shanghai concert with the declaration “Free Tibet!”