ABSTRACT

The topography of Thai and Thai American female representation and gender performance on fi lm has long been a haunted arena for discrimination and racist stereotypes. As products of exploitable imagery, Thai female bodies are highly cultural and hypersexual subject matters, symbolizing highly instable and racialized sites of culture. For example, in the cultural fabric of the U.S., the narrative of Anna Leonowens (1831-1915) has long been a prized piece of Western and Victorian literary history. More popularly known through the Hollywood musical fi lm, The King and I (W. Lang 1956), Leonowens’ narrative is a tale based on the experiences of an English governess who journeys into Siam (modern-day Thailand) and seemingly instills Western modernization into the royal court, reforming the Kingdom from its “oriental” and antiquated ways. This strategic modernization is strongly seen in one of the memoir’s most memorable characters: Tuptim, the Thai Burmese princess and member of the royal harem. In using Tuptim’s characterization as the starting point of this paper, I argue that the creation of this character implemented a phantasmal imprint, stereotyping the ways in which the public views the Thai and Thai American body even to this day. This image, in my eyes, lends a hand to the dehumanization and hypersexuality of the Thai female body, proving it to be both malleable-and expendable. In addition, what the image created was an exploitative system of Western cultural production to help push America’s needed presence in Southeast Asia, as well as further promote the White Man’s burden. Therefore, in this critique I contend that that consequential imagery of Tuptim led to the justifi cation of the sexploitation of two modern-day Thai women in Western media: Yaowalak Chonchanakun (Aoi) of

The Good Woman of Bangkok (O’Rourke 1991) and Layla Lei of Masters of the Pillow (Hou 2004). By comparing these women, I will demonstrate the unequal spheres which defi ne their roles as women of Thai background, and bring to the surface the binary meaning of cultural representation, in this case: power and empire.