Soft Power: David Henry Hwang's "Political Fantasia" Envisions Democracy's Demise / by David Hwang


By some strange coincidence, white people visiting exotic lands in movies often wind up counselors to local leaders, ultimately introducing civilizing principles that help pave the way to a better future. It occurs in The King and IThe Last EmperorSeven Years in Tibet and others; often enough to raise suspicions. It’s an example of “soft power,” strong U.S. cultural and intellectual influences delivered via popular entertainment. 

When playwright David Henry Hwang saw Broadway’s recent revival of The King and I, in which the recalcitrant King of Siam is made amenable through his relationship with an English tutor, the ending moved him nearly to tears, even though many of the show’s narrative elements struck him as factually inaccurate.

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