KUTA, Indonesia — A documentary film about Bali’s “Kuta Cowboys” drew fire from local officials and may have landed the producers in hot water. But none of it should come as a surprise to anyone who has visited the lovely yet sometimes seedy section of this “Island of the Gods.”
After the trailer for “Cowboys In Paradise” was posted this week, police cracked down on so-called “beach gigolos,” who ply foreign women with attention, apparently in an effort to woo gifts — and perhaps payment — from them.
Although I’ve only witnessed the diminutive beach boys offer Western women surfing lessons on the beaches of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, my experience of having been approached repeatedly by prosties on motorbikes makes it easy to believe sex tourism goes both ways, as it were.
Responding to my characterization of Ubud’s friendly locals, a friend who goes by “plakat” said, “I too found the people who lived there to be very kind and welcoming, although the men are quite forward with their advances!”
In a Reuters interview, Singapore-based director Amit Virmani expressed dismay at the recent police attention.
“A witch hunt for men with tanned and muscular bodies on the beach is the last thing anybody wants,” he said. “The film is about one small aspect of life in a holiday destination. It does not suggest that the cowboys are all that Bali has to offer.”
In a Jakarta Globe exclusive, Virmani said “a horrible misunderstanding” was to blame for the dust-up.
“We worked hard to make a distinction between the cowboys and male prostitutes,” he said. “And the more I’ve stressed the distinction in recent days, the further we seem to be moving from that truth. A film on male prostitutes is not what we sought to make and is not the film we’ve made.”
In a separate interview, Virmani characterized the sexy-time scene as such:
A lot of people scoff at the need to distinguish between Cowboys and gigolos, but I see the distinction. It’s a very fine line, but it’s there. Yes, the Cowboys are the most visible face of Bali’s male sex trade, but they’re not sex workers. How’s that for a blurry line!
However, a Bali police spokesman said the Kuta cassanovas were being questioned for possible charges against the filmmakers, who might have lacked the proper permits and could face up to a year in prison.
“Lonely, sunburned European women with vacation braids are totally devastated,” writes Gawker.
The movie’s website simply contained the statement: “We are aghast at the recent raids in Kuta. This is not the point of the film.”
The leisurely lotharios have taken to calling themselves “pemburu bule,” or “whitey hunters.” (The word “bule” is used to denote a foreigner and literally means “albino.”) Having witnessed the Indonesian affinity for foreigners with my friend Josh in Jakarta, I can see how this might play out.
There’s no telling what effect this will have on Kuta Cowboys or the expected spike in Bali tourism from the Aug. 13 release of “Eat, Pray, Love,” starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.
Incidentally, if Roberts’s reaction to the Elizabeth Gilbert bestseller is any indication of how well the chick flick will fare, Ubud — and Bali — may be in for an awakening:
“It cast a spell on me,” she told The New York Times in a recent profile. “I immediately got on Amazon.com and ordered a copy for my best friend in Chicago. I sent it to her with a note saying, ‘I want to be reading this while someone I love is reading it at the same time.’ ”