Thursday, November 2, 2006
Even before the release of his film Borat: Cultural Learnings for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen had gotten the Kazakhstan government so riled up with his portrayal of a fictional anti-Semitic Kazakh journalist that the former Soviet Union country countered the negative publicity by taking out advertisements touting Kazakhstan as a cosmopolitan place in publications like The New York Times and U.S. News and World Report.
Though Baron Cohen had unveiled the character before on his HBO program Da Ali G Show, the comedian infuriated Kazakhstan officials after his alter ego Borat hosted the 2005 MTV Europe Awards last November. There, in his trademark gray suit and bushy mustache, Borat called Madonna a “very convincing” transvestite and instructed a little Kazkhstani child to rob Akon’s dressing room while the hip hop artist was performing.
Following the awards show, the Kazakh government, which has drawn the ire of human rights organizations for shutting down the current leadership’s rival political party, threatened the comedian with legal action and kicked Baron Cohen off a Kazakhstan-based Web site where he was posing as Borat. Rebuffing Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayeev demands to cease and desist, Baron Cohen responded as on a video posted on his Web site. “In response to Mr. Ashykbayev’s comments, I’d like to state I have no connection with Mr. Cohen and fully support my government’s decision to sue this Jew,” said the comedian, who is Jewish. “Since the 2003 Tuleyakiv reforms, Kazakhstan is as civilized as any other country in the world. Women can now travel on inside of bus, homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats, and age of consent has been raised to 8 years old.”
Last month, Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayez traveled to Washington DC, to meet with President Bush. The British tabloid Daily Mail reported that one reason for the visit was so that Nazarbayez could discuss Baron Cohen with Bush. The comedian responded by holding a press conference outside the Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington, where he denounced the country’s press secretary Roman Vasilenko as an imposter from neighboring Uzbekistan. He also invited “American dignitaries” including “premiere George Walter Bush,” Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Gates, O.J. Simpson and “Mel Gibsons” to attend a screening of his movie followed by cocktails and a diplomatic discussion at Hooters.
Recently, Kazakhstan changed its tack with the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Rakhat Aliyev, inviting Baron Cohen to visit the Central Asian country and see first hand what it is really like. With the release of Borat this Friday in theaters across the United States, Kazakhstan might breathe a sigh of relief. Though Borat is portrayed as a homophobic, chauvinistic and anti-Semitic reporter in the film, Borat the movie makes current American society look quite possibly even worse.
The movie, which is a genius mix of scripted material and Baron Cohen’s character interacting with real American citizens unaware that they will appear in a feature film, captures wince-inducing moments of a rodeo hand’s gay bashing and a scene where an employee at a gun store doesn’t hesitate to suggest the best sort of firearm for killing Jews.