Sacha Baron Cohen wouldn’t be a household name without “Borat.”
Yes, the British comic previously gave us “Da Ali G Show,” a wacky spin on the talk show genre. Still, it took the runaway success of his 2006 comedy “Borat” to become a superstar.
And he earned every ounce of it.
Not only did “Borat” turn the “Candid Camera” concept on its ear, it delivered gales of laughter in the process. To do so, Cohen kicked as many sacred cows as he could.
He mocked and/or duped Jews, fraternity brothers, rodeo fans, driving instructors, feminists and more. Borat Sagdiyev, Cohen’s alter ego, also wallowed in anti-Semitism sans apology.
He’s not embracing it, just mocking it the way comics traditionally do.
The culture at the time not only allowed Cohen’s shenanigans (beyond a few lawsuits by the people Cohen and co. tricked) but celebrated his comedic genius. The film earned an Oscar nomination and appeared on a crush of “Top 10” movie lists.
It did all this because it arrived years before Cancel Culture took root. Do you think a straight white male comic would get a pass for mocking feminists … let alone describing one as an “old man?”
Of course not.
Here’s what The Independent wrote about Cohen’s early success, and why it wouldn’t exist had he come of age today.
The British comic’s … Ali G, a white, middle-class male appropriating black culture and hip-hop vernacular. It was a satire at the expense of men like Ali G, individuals trying on a persona they had no real right to adopt, but was also criticised for making hip-hop culture the butt of the joke, too – whether deliberately or inadvertently. Much of the same criticism trailed his later creations, the antisemitic, xenophobic Kazakh journalist Borat and the flamboyant gay fashion designer Bruno, both of whom have been accused of contributing to racism and homophobia as much as exposing them.
Cohen’s 2020 follow-up, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” proved far less incendiary while avoiding Cancel Culture attacks.
It mocked the culture’s “approved” targets, including President Donald Trump and female conservatives.
The sequel still enraged a collection of special interests groups, who now demand awards season voters write “Subsequent Moviefilm” out of the picture.
Organizations based in Canada, the UK, Turkey, Mongolia, Georgia, Kazakhstan have joined Hungary- and U.S.-based organizations in calling for the film to be blocked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Directors Guild of America and British Academy of Film and Television Arts from competing for prestigious awards….
“Mr. Cohen went beyond any moral or ethical standards in portraying Kazakh people as misogynistic, incestuous, anti-Semitic, and barbarous,” said Gia Noortas, CEO of Hollywood Film Academy. “Due to this harmful misrepresentation, more Kazakhs today will face racial abuse, bullying, humiliation, and dehumanization….”
“We understand that the nature of comedy is to test the limits of what is acceptable, but not at our nation’s expense,” Noortas said. “It’s racism, period. Racial abuse of Kazakh minority should not be the last refuge of racism in Hollywood. Kazakh women have become targets for harassment, Kazakh children are being bullied, Kazakhs worldwide face discrimination.”
One thing should be stated up front.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is only in the awards season mix due to its anti-Trump sentiment. The sequel is dramatically inferior to the original in every way that counts.
Still, progressive voters may be keen on sending one more message to Trump by honoring “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” With that in mind, could the advocacy groups’ campaign succeed? It’s highly unlikely, in part because the same media outlets that amplify most Cancel Culture attacks haven’t reported on this one.
Reporters are covering for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” because they approve its message.
The sentiment still could reach a few awards season voters, maybe even those fortunate enough to select the annual Oscar winners.
If so, “Borat’s” chances just slipped a peg.
Meanwhile, Cohen can’t summon a syllable about Cancel Culture’s toxic influence. Unlike Gervais, a button-smashing soul who constantly defends free speech, Cohen cares more about limiting it. Witness his ongoing campaign against Facebook, a mission he name-checked in the “Borat” sequel.
Cohen should be on the front lines of the culture war fight for free expression. His owes his phenomenal success to western culture’s willingness to allow uncomfortable comedy that makes us both think and laugh.
Instead, he’s doing just the opposite. It would be poetic justice if a dollop of Cancel Culture cost him an Oscar nomination.