An international boycott against the 20th Century Fox film, The Beach started by a Missoula environmental activist comes ashore this week when the film opens Friday in Missoula.
Bryony Schwan of the Missoula-based Women’s Voices for the Earth launched the international campaign and boycott via the World Wide Web last year after traveling through Thailand in January 1999. It was there that she learned from local Thai activists of the intrusive and the destructive ecological practices being used for shooting the film, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, on Thailand’s Phi Phi Leh Island, known for its idyllic turquoise inlets, sculpted orange cliffs and lush tropical vegetation.
Normally, the fee for shooting a film in a Thai national park is 1,000 bhat (or about US $26), but Fox reportedly paid the Thailand Royal Forestry Department 4 million bhat (about $108,000) with a deposit of 5 million bhat (or $135,000) to allow them to bulldoze Maya Beach, tear out native grasses and vegetation, and plant 60 non-native coconut palms. This despite the island’s protected national park status, which expressly prohibits such alternations.
For their part, Fox claims that they have done nothing wrong, and even asserts that their work improved the area of Maya Bay.
“I would never, by any means, intentionally go forthwith a project that I believed would damage the environment of any country, or the image of Thailand,” says DiCaprio, in a written statement issued by Fox. “I know that the [Fox] company took three tons of garbage off the island, and I believe that whenever we leave the island, it is going to be better off than it was before. From what I see with my own eyes, everything is OK. I have seen nothing that had been destroyed or damaged in any way.”
“Fox made all these claims that they did all this restoration,” says Schwan. “Basically, as we predicted, the restoration hasn’t worked. The monsoons during the summer did take a way a lot of the beach. There’s been tremendous erosion.” In response, Thai activists, pro-democracy groups and local residents have filed a lawsuit against their own government. Adding insult to injury, Fox also convinced The Tourism Authority of Thailand to co-sponsor a campaign to jointly promote The Beach and Thailand’s beaches to international tourists.
Since launching the awareness campaign and boycott a little over a year ago, Schwan says she has been inundated with “thousands upon thousands” of e-mail messages from around the world, some of which resulted in protests at a recent premiere of the film in Los Angeles. The film opens nationwide Feb. 11, with a local protest scheduled for the 7:30 p.m. showing of The Beach at Missoula’s Village 6 Theatre .