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"The Way" Controversy

The episode The Way has sparked major controversy in recent weeks. The leader of a Hindu faction objected to various facets of the story. As a result, the episode has been pulled from worldwide syndication. Future plans for airing it in the United States or for releasing it on video remain uncertain.

  • Statement from Renaissance Pictures
  • What does Rob Tapert, Executive Producer of XWP, have to say?
  • What are the objections to the story?

  • Statement from Renaissance Pictures

    April 2, 1999

    To reaffirm our previous statement, when we set out last year to make the episode of Xena: Warrior Princess titled "The Way," we certainly had no intention of offending anyone. We even went so far as to hire an academic expert on Indian studies who is Hindu to make sure the script would accomplish our good intentions of honoring and not offending anyone.

    However, it has become evident to us that the advice we received is not in line with Hindu beliefs. 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 Foundations, to discuss the specific alterations that would need to be made.

    Letter from Rob Tapert

    April 6, 1999

    To All Concerned,

    Renaissance Pictures and its business partners are not insensitive to the concerns of Hindus worldwide. The earnest and understandable efforts of some Hindus to convey their distress over the depiction of Krishna in the Xena episode, "The Way, " were blurred by the intolerant attitudes in which the issue was initially couched.

    On February 23, 1999, the Xena production staff was sent a letter from Tustas Krishnadas, Press Secretary of the World Vaishnava Association. In his letter, he wrote that the Xena episode, "The Way, " which, at the time of his letter had not yet been screened, was "...offensive in two ways: (1) It treats Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, speaker of the scripture Bhagavad-gita, as fictional, and (2) since in this episode Lord Krishna is engaged in fictional activities of helping Xena reunite with Gabrielle, who is obviously her lesbian lover, it makes it appear that Lord Krishna and the Vedic religion approve of and give blessings to homosexual relationships, which is completely false. "

    While the first point is certainly worth serious discussion, the second point was difficult not to treat as just another piece of hate mail.

    Over the years, we at Renaissance Pictures have read thousands of letters protesting our depiction of interracial love affairs; our portrayal of Cleopatra as black; of Hercules' and Xena's tolerance of others' religious, ideological, or sexual leanings. We have even received criticism of the diverse ethnicities which we choose to have people our villages. Why we do not respond to letters of that nature is obvious. However, by not responding to this letter, we were then made the target of misinformation and outright lies.

    Every critic has a personal agenda. 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.

    Robert Tapert
    Executive Producer
    Renaissance Pictures

    The Objections

    Xena’s Message to the Viewers
    by Tusta Krishna das

    What is Xena's message about Krishna, devotees of the Lord and the Vedic literature? As previously noted in press statements, American Hindus Against Defamation, the World Vaishnava Association and other Hindu groups have expressed concern that the producers of "Xena" would treat Krishna as a fictional character and/or in a disrespectful manner. This has always been the WVA’s first and foremost concern, and nobody who has viewed the show can deny that the presentation of Lord Krishna, Sri Hanuman and others was highly fictionalized. Let us examine this and other messages that the "Xena" program clearly conveys, both directly and by inference:

    Xena presents Krishna as a fictional character, on par with the "Greek gods" who have helped (or warred with) Xena in other shows. To treat Krishna as a fictional character who can be manipulated by scriptwriters for the sole purpose of creating an interesting plot is not pleasing to sincere devotees of Krishna. Even if Krishna is portrayed in a "good" or "favorable" role, it is still of great concern because it gives the distinct impression that He is fictional – which in turn calls into question the truth and reality of His transcendental pastimes as described in the Vedic literature. Are such literatures also the product of creative writing? Fictionalizing Krishna means having Him speak words He never said and do things He never did. To treat Krishna as a fictional character is to deny His divinity and present Him as a mere myth, rather than as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

    This is all that really needs to be said. The fictionalization of Krishna in itself should be enough to make Hindus become disturbed about the "Xena" episode. However, there are many additional messages which, though secondary, nonetheless come across in the context of further fictionalizing and diminishing the importance of the Vedic literature and Hindu religious beliefs.

    According to Xena producers, a pure devotee and servant of the Lord (Hanuman) should be treated with disdain or as an equal at best. After all, in Xena's eyes, such personalities are themselves "fictional." And certainly we do not need to pay such devotees our obeisances or show our respects or adoration. Early in the show Hanuman steps out of the shadows to get a close look at a so-called avatar who is very Christ-like in appearance. Xena (the "heroine" and main character) attacks him and punches him repeatedly in the face. Hanuman doesn’t even counterattack but defends himself by picking her up, holding her hands to her side. Xena then head-butts him very severely in the face. At this point Hanuman says (this is an exact quote, as are all others mentioned in this article), "Please don’t hurt me. I mean no harm." The "heroine" Xena stops beating Hanuman but makes no apology to him whatsoever. Instead she castigates him: "What do you think you’re doing prowling around the camp?" Hanuman: "I wanted to get a closer look at the avatar. My name is Hanuman." Hanuman then bows his head respectfully to Xena, but receives no respect in return, nor even a word or gesture of apology for viciously attacking him. During subsequent scenes, Xena treats Hanuman as an equal at best, showing no humility or respect to him. So the clear message here is that a pure devotee and servant of the Supreme Lord should be treated with disdain or as an equal at best. And certainly we do not need to pay them our obeisances or show our respects or adoration.

    Xena teaches us that, what to speak of ordinary people, even pure devotees don’t show proper respect when entering a temple or coming before the deity form of the Lord nor in any of their dealings with Him. When Hanuman and Gabrielle enter the temple, Hanuman walks up to the deity of Krishna without offering any sign of respect, even folded hands. No wonder Gabrielle isn’t convinced she or Xena require any divine help! Gabrielle: "Hanuman, no offense. You see, Xena and I aren’t used to waiting around for the gods to bail us out." Here also we get the message that there is no need to show respect to the demigods, either. (And we are also reminded that Xena and Gabrielle are on the same level as the demigods since they don’t need any help from them and can basically do everything the demigods can.) At this point Hanuman goes to his knees with folded hands and facing Krishna. Instead of offering prayers to Krishna, however, he turns to Gabrielle and speaks to her. They then walk away, turning their backs on the deity of Krishna, and have a short conversation, at which time they find out there’s a fight outside. During the fight the "avatar" Eli and Gabrielle are kidnapped.

    Xena teaches that a person can see Krishna even if one’s heart is full of pride and one feels superior to Him. Indeed, Xena speaks very condescendingly of Krishna right before Hanuman instructs her how she can attract His attention. Xena states: "Your friend Krishna didn’t show," indicating that Krishna had let them down by not appearing for the fight. Rather than chastising her for her arrogance as the real Hanuman would do, he accepts such a statement with no protest. He then explains how to get the attention of Krishna.

    We have Hanuman, the great Ram-bhakta, completely mis-portrayed, as he states that it is NOT by humility but through pride, arrogance, lack of respect, and lack of faith that one can get Krishna’s attention. Hanuman: "We need to get His attention." Xena: "How do we do that?" Hanuman: "With these gods sometimes you’ve got to try something unusual." Xena: "Like what?" Hanuman: "What Krishna needs is for someone to call upon Him who doesn’t respect gods, doesn’t trust them, doesn’t like them, someone who thinks he doesn’t need them." Xena: "You want me to pray?" Hanuman nods, "Yes." Of course, the teaching of Xena's fictional Hanuman is a complete contradiction to Krishna’s instruction in Bhagavad-gita where he twice says, "Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend."

    Xena reluctantly resigns herself to the fact that she needs Krishna’s help. She drops to her knees and looks at Hanuman and very sarcastically—and obviously bummed by what she is doing—says, "All right, what’s He [referring to Krishna] into—chanting, sacrifices?" After "praying" silently for a short time, she opens her eyes, casts a sarcastic glance at Hanuman and mockingly asks, "Well, how am I doing, Hanuman?" She sees Hanuman is gone and hears a sound behind her. She pulls out her sword and turns to find Krishna. At no point after Krishna appears to her does Xena pay her obeisances, nor does she display even a hint of devotion toward Him. She offers no prayers, she cries no tears of love, she shows not a trace of humility. Indeed, as just stated, she expresses nothing more than disdain and snide remarks and in her best moment treats Him only as an equal. Mostly she deals with Krishna in an extremely condescending manner, as if she is His superior, or under the best circumstances, as if she is His equal. Xena: "Krishna, thank you for coming. Where’s Hanuman?" Krishna: "I asked him to step outside. I thought it best we be alone for this." Xena: "For what? We ARE going after Gabrielle and Eli, right?" (said as an instruction or a demand, not an actual question). Krishna: "How do you expect to defeat Indrajit?" Xena: "I can't without your help." Krishna: "But I can't help you unless you let me." Xena (in an impatient, impudent tone): "I'm not one for cryptic talk. Get to the point." After some further conversation where Xena maintains her arrogant attitude, Krishna in the end blesses her with His left hand and tells her, "Go. Rise up like fire and burn all that oppose you. And if you’re following the path of the way, call My name and the strength to defeat Indrajit will be given to you. Are you ready?" Xena: "I’m ready." She opens her eyes and Krishna is already gone.

    If we consider this scene carefully, we see that through the eyes of the Xena staff, the Vedic scriptures are not only fictional but they are also untruthful or contain lies, specifically in connection with the cherished teaching that one cannot see Krishna unless his heart has been cleansed with tears of love. The audience, however, is led to believe just the opposite and is shown by Xena that Krishna is at the beck and call of the proud and the faithless. And not only does Xena believe the Vedic teachings about humility and surrender are untrue, but so does Hanuman, since he has directly told her that Krishna can only be approached by the arrogant and the faithless.

    The characters in the Vedic scriptures are not only portrayed as unreal by the producers of Xena but they are interchangeable. They take Hanuman, for example, pull him out of the Ramayan, and have Him relating to Lord Krishna. And we find a long-dead Indrajit (previously killed by Lakshman in Rama-lila) very much alive and well in Xena’s world. This portrayal is an incorrect mixture of rasas and contrary lilas. In truth, Hanuman never leaves the service of Lord Rama, not even for the darshan of Lord Krishna. (Even though he knows Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and even though offered the opportunity to visit Dwaraka, he could not leave the service of his beloved Lord Rama).

    Xena appears in Lanka to rescue Eli, the "avatar," and Gabrielle, her lesbian girlfriend. Before we get into the specifics, again we should note that the battle itself presents the Ramayan as not being truthful, but rather being full of lies. Firstly, despite what Ramayan tells us, Indrajit continues to live. Lakshman didn’t kill him, therefore Xena is required to do so. The message here is that not only can we create fictitious stories and treat religious icons as fictional characters, but we can replace them with other fictional characters like Xena. For example, we can remove Lakshman, the great hero who actually killed the horrific demon Indrajit. We can take him out of the picture completely and put Xena in his place. So Xena replaces Lakshman and, as we will see, kills the demon Indrajit. What we learn from this is that it is perfectly acceptable to put oneself in the position of the Supreme Lord or devotee of the Supreme Lord for entertainment purposes. This is first-class sahajiya-ism. Just as the sahajiyas believe you can make believe that you are Krishna and you are the one who enjoys the rasa dance, Xena is telling us you can make believe you are Lakshman and you are the one who has killed the great demon Indrajit.

    We also get the subtle message that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, and great devotees of the Lord such as Hanuman give their blessing to lesbian relationships. Although this particular show didn’t have any overtly lesbian scenes, it is common knowledge that Xena is a lesbian icon, a lesbian hero, and that lesbians make up a large part of the viewing audience. (Those who question this can visit this website with pictures of Xena and Gabrielle kissing, bathing together, etc. In this show we have Krishna and Hanuman helping unite Xena with Gabrielle, her lesbian girlfriend, which may be misinterpreted as an endorsement by Sri Hanuman and Lord Krishna of the lesbian lifestyle when in fact it is condemned in the Vedic literature.

    This show tells us that an avatar—in other words, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord—can be in ignorance. Indeed, the so-called "avatar" in this show (who appears to be a not-very-well disguised Jesus Christ) is basically a wuss who is still learning the ropes of "avatar-hood" and who is uncertain about what he should do. They even present Hanuman, a pure devotee of the Lord, as one who knows more than the avatar does, who thinks old avatars are wiser than young ones. When Hanuman offers his help, the avatar states, "I don’t need any help really." Hanuman sighs knowingly and replies, "Most young avatars say that," acknowledging that this particular avatar isn’t up to the full par of avatar-ship yet. Since there is no such thing as an "Eli" avatar presented in the Vedic literature anyway, it is just a further fictionalization to have Krishna and Hanuman trying to protect or save him.

    Xena herself is presented as a type of goddess, equal to the demigods and in many cases superior to them. Depending on how you look at it, the producers are trying to either make a Hindu deity/demigod out of Xena or reduce all the Hindu deities/demigods down to Xena’s level—namely, "fictional" superheroes from TV-Land. At the beginning of the show, an authoritative voice announces the "Truth" of Xena in the following manner: "In the time of ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero. She was Xena, a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle, the power, the passion, the danger; her courage will change the world." Yes, Xena will change the world! There is even reference in previous shows to a Xena scripture (called "The Xena 'Blue' Scroll"). As a type of goddess herself, she has the same powers as Hanuman. When he leaps 50 feet up into a tree, Xena does the same thing but going him one better—doing a back flip on the way up!

    The producers of Xena believe they have the right to place their characters within the context and stories of the scriptures. Thus we have Xena going to Lanka to kill Indrajit, the great demon. Likewise, the Xena producers feel they can place scriptural personalities, religious icons revered by all sincere followers of the Vedic culture, in situations where they never really were. They clearly feel they have the right to have them "join the gang of heroes," so to speak. In fact, they can be used to assist Xena in carrying out her divine purposes and creating her own religion where she is the savior of the Earth, as described above.

    Consider Goddess Kali’s (or is it Xena's?) miraculous appearance. A fight ensues during which Indrajit cuts off both of Xena’s arms. She is lying in pain and says one word—"Krishna." At this point, Krishna (unseen) turns her into Kali. Her complexion becomes black, and she assumes a multi-armed form. Her transformation into Kali is highlighted by scenes in which the camera goes to a painting of Kali on the wall, back to Xena, and then up to Kali again and back to Xena. We now see Xena as Kali with a black complexion, with wild hair, wild eyes, and with blood coming from her mouth dripping down to her neck, and a garland of skulls hanging around her neck. She is wearing a little skirt which appears like it's made of leopard skin. Clearly, the message is that Hindu deities are fictional. In the same vein that Xena has replaced Lakshman in order to kill Indrajit, she has now become Goddess Kali. This is offensive and disrespectful to Lakshman and to the demigods, who are real personalities. After a major fight, Xena as Kali kills Indrajit and then resumes her form as Xena. Kali evidently is something like the American comic book hero "The Hulk," who transforms out of an ordinary person to fight demons, but who has no independent existence, being merely a convenient alter ego. Not surprisingly, she offers no thanks or obeisances to Krishna for saving her, but why should she? (It's all mythical anyway, so who cares about humility, gratitude or etiquette?) Even on her best behavior, she treated Krishna as an equal benefactor whom she had no choice but to deal with. And at other times she addressed Him snidely, sarcastically and arrogantly.

    To summarize the important point made at the beginning of this article, it is offensive to sincere devotees to see Krishna presented as a fictionalized character. Even if the producers try to make Him "good" in this episode (and there is no telling how He may be presented in future episodes), they have still portrayed Him fictionally, and this is not right. This point alone should be enough to upset anyone who holds Lord Krishna near and dear to their hearts. Even if points 2-9 did not exist, even if the rest of the story was philosophically correct, even if the portrayal of all other characters was accurate, so long as Krishna is portrayed in any fictional capacity, it is offensive and should not be tolerated.

    One might try to find fault in the above-mentioned observations, noting that most viewers have no knowledge of the Vedic literature and therefore won’t reach the same conclusions as the author. This merely INCREASES our concern. Those with no such knowledge will be even more deeply illusioned and will surely take Krishna, the demigods and the Vedic literature very cheaply and view them as myths or imaginary.

    Clearly this show should be alarming, insulting and offensive to any Hind who sincerely appreciates Vedic culture, whether worshiper of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His Vishnu incarnations, or whether a worshiper of the demigods. It treats the whole Vedic culture very lightly, and shows that the producers simply see the Vedic literatures as a "treasure chest" to draw and create fictional plots and characters from.

    The Supreme Personality of Godhead is a real person, very dear to His millions and millions of devotees around the world. His pastimes are real; they are not fictitious. To create so-called pastimes of Krishna, and to put words in His mouth, even if they appear to be favorable ones, is offensive to Him. We feel a sincere responsibility to speak up on Krishna’s behalf. We do not want Him to be known by the world in a fictional manner.

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