When Sacha Baron Cohen launched into our lives with Borat, people cringed, did spit takes, and talked about the scenes in the movie for days around the water cooler. The man was fearless and risked — at times — physical beat downs and incarceration for the cheap joke. And did it ever work.
Borat was a cultural sensation. He was getting there in the early formations of this character on the HBO series Da Ali G Show. But in 2006, Director Larry Charles and 20th Century pictures thought they had a blossoming hit, so they released Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
This fictional Kazakhstan journalist would corner real and famous people in awkward and shameful fashion revealing racist, anti-Semite, and sexist views floating around North America.
Borat was a controversy cattle prod and we never knew if there would be another…until Amazon Prime released it straight to a free stream last week. And now, to say this sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, has picked up where it left off is an understatement.
Most importantly, Sacha Baron Cohen has managed to piss off Borat’s native land, Kazakhstan
No Great Success (If You Ask Kazakhstan)
In an official letter sent to Amazon, obtained by Variety, the Kazakh American Association (yes, it’s a thing) believes the streamer’s support of the film could “incite violence against a highly vulnerable and underrepresented minority ethnic group.”
Considering today’s socially aware political climate, why is a racist film which openly berates, bullies and traumatizes a nation comprised of people of color an acceptable form of entertainment that meets Amazon’s ethical values? Why is our small nation fair game for public ridicule?Kazakh American Alliance, Variety, Oct. 2020
The letter addressed some heavy hitters at Amazon.
- Jay Carney, senior vice president of global corporate affairs at Amazon
- Drew Herdener, vice president of global corporate and operations communications
- Sarah Gavin, vice president of global communications and corporate brand
Among its claims were the heavily Muslim nation saw members of the Kazakh community subjected to “ethnicity-based humiliation” and Kazakh children were bullied at school. While no sources were cited in those claims, there are others in the Kazakh community with claims. Like this guy…
“Sacha Baron Cohen and his crew white washes [sic] our ethnicity and therefore makes it okay to make fun of us. It would be completely politically incorrect if they were Asian or Black…Gaukhar (Gia) Noortas, a Los Angeles-based Kazakh native and the founder and CEO of the Hollywood Film Academy.
So, it’s easy to assume that the country and all of its denizens aren’t fans of Borat or Sacha Baron Cohen, right? Well, not so fast.
“Very Nice” for Tourism
While the multitudes of stateside Kazakhs are cursing Sacha Baron Cohen and hoping Borat 2 flames out terribly, not everyone in the motherland thinks the movie is such a bad thing.
Like the official ministry of tourism.
It’s right there. One of Borat’s signature phrases, “Very nice” shilling for airline tickets and hotel stays to the center of Eurasia. They don’t seem to ashamed of Cohen’s work because they believe it will bring much needed revenue to the country. See?
The landmarks. The views. Maybe not all the people, but for the most part, “Very nice!” And to Cohen, the comedy was nice too and folks should learn to laugh a little.
“This is a comedy, and the Kazakhstan in the film has nothing to do with the real country. I chose Kazakhstan because it was a place that almost nobody in the U.S. knew anything about, which allowed us to create a wild, comedic, fake world. The real Kazakhstan is a beautiful country with a modern, proud society — the opposite of Borat’s version.”Sacha Baron Cohen, The New York Times, October 2020
While fellow denizens of Kazakhstan and other officials, it’s clear the tourism board is striking with the cringy iron is hot. And why?
The first Borat film came out in 2006, and Kazakhstan’s government responded with outrage, banning the film and threatening lawsuits. When the sequel came out this year, Kazakh Tourism decided to flip the script and have fun with Borat’s catchphrase, ‘Very Nice!’, adapting it for the country’s tourism campaign.Dennis Keen, the creator of the tourism concept and an American living in Kazakhstan, USA TODAY, October 2020
Woah. Woah. Wee. Wah. In any nation, money is still king. So, Viva la Kazakhstan. Enjoy the trip. Oh, and take your wiiiiiiiiife! (If you know, you know.)