Updated April 25, 2019​ 

Sri Lanka Express

The "Hollywood Buddha" Controversy (2004)

The poster that provoked protests  in Sri Lanka & Thailand

The Cristiano Ronaldo incident is reminiscent of the furor in 2004 surrounding a poster advertising the movie  “Hollywood Buddha.”   The movie was about a struggling Hollywood producer who rents a Buddha statue at the behest of a Buddhist friend who believes it will bring him luck selling his feature film.    A billboard poster for the movie that depicted independent filmmaker Philippe Caland (also the leading character in the movie) sitting on top of the Buddha’s head quickly circulated online sparking outrage in Sri Lanka and Thailand. 

More than 500 Buddhist monks protested outside the US Embassy in Colombo demanding a ban on the Hollywood movie, even threatening to fast to death if their objections were not heeded.

The highly-publicized controversy was resolved in Los Angeles when an apologetic Caland contacted Consul General Pradeep Gunawardena and offered a free screening of the movie to Buddhist monks to convince them that it was in no way disrespectful to Buddhism.

Caland later said that the movie poster was a mistake but that the incident got him thinking about karma and the role of cause and effect in our lives –which led to the making of another movie called Ripple Effect.  It received mixed reviews but earned awards at the Sedona and Boston international film festivals

Below is the report from the SLE archives.

Director Phillipe Caland with Sri Lankan Buddhist monks at the screening of "Hollywood Buddha"

Buddhist Monks who viewed movie say nothing disrespectful in ‘Hollywood Buddha’

By Hassina Leelarathna
Sept. 20, 2004
     Beverly Hills, CA - Representatives of  the Sri Lankan Buddhist temples in Southern  California have seen the controversial ‘Hollywood Buddha’ and their unanimous verdict is that the movie is not disrespectful to the religion and that it does not pose any threat to Buddhism.

     At the request of Sri Lankan Consul General Pradeep Gunawardana, the monks were invited to a special screening of the movie held in Beverly Hills, California on Thursday evening (September 16). 

   Mr. Philippe Caland who produced, directed, and played the leading role in ‘Hollywood Buddha’ personally greeted the monks as they arrived at the Charles Aidikoff theater.  Assistant Director Dino Bozikovic and cast member Marlo Gazali were also present.       Before the showing, Caland made a brief speech in which he apologized to the monks and to all Sri Lankan Buddhists saying he deeply regretted any pain he had caused.  He said his website had recorded more than a million hits and that he had received protest emails from all over the world.

   “This movie will show that I have nothing but the highest regard and respect for Buddhism.  It was not my intent to hurt anyone and I apologize for any pain I have caused,” he said.

    The outrage stemmed from an advertising image of ‘Hollywood Buddha’ posted on the movie’s website showing a man sitting on a Buddha statue.    

   Caland explained that the image in the poster was not from the movie but had been created by a publicist by merging two separate images. 
   “I did not sit on the Buddha statue.  And I did not think that the image would be considered disrespectful by Buddhists.” 
     He said he withdrew the poster as soon as he started receiving protest emails. 

A new poster will be unveiled at the September 23 premiere of the movie which will be shown in theaters in Southern California starting the next day.

   ‘Hollywood Buddha’ is a low-budget comedy about a struggling Hollywood yuppie whose life hits rock bottom and then dramatically changes for the better after he turns to a Buddhist guru for spiritual guidance.
   “The movie is by no means harmful or disrespectful to Buddhism,” said Ven. Kolitha of the Sarathchandra Meditation Center in North Hollywood.  “The message being conveyed in the movie, as I see it, is that there is a universality of religion and that all religions are the same.  He [Caland] seems to have respect for all religions.”
 Consul General Pradeep Gunawardana said he was appreciative of the fact that Mr. Caland went out of his way to accommodate his request for a special screening for the Sri Lankan Buddhist monks.   “The poster was very damaging.  But the movie itself contains nothing that can be pointed out as being harmful or anti-Buddhist.  In a way, it promotes Buddhism,” he said.   
   Dr. Nimal Samarasundera, former Secretary to the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, who was present at the screening shared similar sentiments.

   The monks and Mr. Caland parted on very cordial terms with Caland promising to visit the temples to learn more about Buddhism.  
  The following are the invitees who attended the screening: Rev. Dr. Ittapane Dhammalankara Thero  - Chief Incumbent of Maithreeviharaya; Rev. Aparakke Punnyasiri thero; Rev. Katugaha Gnanaratana Thero; Rev. Kurunegala Dhammaloka thero;  Rev. W. Seewali Thero; Rev. Kolonnawa Dhammika Thero; Rev. Ahangama Dhammarama Thero  - Chief Incumbant of Los Angeles   Buddhist Viharaya; Rev. Nawala Lakkana Thero; Rev. Katugaha Gnanaratana Thero; Rev. Ambalantota Kolitha –Thero , Chief Incumbent of Sarathchandra Buddhist Meditation Center; Rev. Yatirawana Siriniwasa Thero; Rev. Madawala Punnajee – Thero  Dharmavijaya  Buddhist Vihara; Rev. Ella Chandrawimala Therol;Rev. Muruthamure Pannaloka Thero; Rev. Pallawela Rahula Thero; Rev. Bambarawane Kalyanawansa Thero; Rev. Maitipe Wimalasara Thero – Buddhagaya Viharaya – India;  Rev. Mirigama Gunaratana Thero – Chief Incumbent of  Chao Chu Temple; Mr. Pradeep Gunawardana – Consul General of Sri Lanka in Los Angeles; Dr. Nimal Samarasundera – former Secretary to the Ministry of Buddhasasana; Mr. Gamini Pemasiri – Consul (Trade) –  Sri Lanka Consulate in Los Angeles; Mr. Cyril Gunarathna – Attache’, Sri Lanka Consulate.

A moment in our history

The annals of Sri Lankan Independence Day celebrations in Los Angeles will not be complete without the story of the protest led in 2002 by veteran journalist Walter Jayawardhana against then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.   

Protester disrupts Independence Day Celebrations

Los Angeles, Feb. 4, 2002

By Hassina Leelarathna

The Sri Lankan government’s official 54th Independence Day celebrations, held at the Consulate General’s office in Los Angeles today, were disrupted when a protester made his way to the midst of the proceedings and demanded that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe resign from his position.

Carrying a poster that said in bold letters ‘Ranil Resign,’ Sinhala Defense League President Walter Jayawardhana, who also a well-known Sri Lankan journalist, suddenly sprang towards the podium and stopped a Consulate official from reading the Independence Day message of Prime Minister Wickremasinghe. The incident occurred just as Deputy Consul Mr. Dharmasena completed reading President Kumaratunga’s message and announced that he would be reading Prime Minister Wickremasinghe’s message next.
(Photos by Gamini Edirisinghe)

As startled Consulate staff and participants looked on, Jayawardhana shouted in Sinhalese that he too had a message, to be sent to Ranil Wickremasinghe. “Thousands of Tamil children are being abducted from their homes by the terrorists, he [Prime Minister Wickremasinghe] is not doing anything to stop it and is simply watching. We demand his immediate resignation,” he shouted. Consul General Tissa Wijeratne, visibly shocked, quickly tried to restrain him from saying anything further and led him away. “We are boycotting this event and we are walking out in protest,” Jayawardhana shouted as he stormed out of the building followed by other members of the Defense League.

After the protesters left, Mr. Dharmasena proceeded to read the Prime Minister’s message. No reference was made to the incident by Mr. Wijeratne who later took the podium to read out the President and Prime Minister’s messages in English and to make his own Independence Day address to the gathering. Present at the ceremony was former Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament Mr., Anura Bandaranaike who is currently on a visit to Los Angeles.

About twelve Buddhist monks, two Catholic priests -- Father Flavian Wilathgamuwa and Father Damien Fernando – representatives of the local Tamil and Muslim communities, and about thirty people from the local Sri Lankan community participated in the event that was held at the Consulate General’s office on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Jayawardhana later told the SL Express that the Defense League was protesting the ‘UNP-LTTE nexus’ and the reckless manner in which the new UNP government led by Prime Minister Wickremasinghe was giving in to the demands of the terrorist group.

This was the first known occasion when a protest was held inside the premises of a Sri Lankan mission abroad. Jayawardhana said they picked the Consul General’s office because they wanted the anger and disappointment of the expatriates who had worked hard over the years to have the LTTE banned to be conveyed not only to Prime Minister Wickremasinghe but to Foreign Minister Tyrone Fernando as well. Several Sri Lankan expatriate organizations worldwide have expressed anger and disappointment at comments made recently by the new Foreign Minister criticizing his predecessor, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, for focusing on getting the LTTE banned in the U.S. and other countries. Numerous letters and articles have been emailed or posted on internet website on this issue. “We have nothing against Consul General Tissa Wijeratne or his staff. They are all very nice people. But we cannot stand by and watch the alarming events in Sri Lanka without protest,” Jayawardhana said.