Borat, Sacha Baron’s perverse and anti-Semitic Kazakh TV reporter, returned to the public consciousness this month, with the release of the movie sequel Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, on Amazon Prime. The film has been in the cultural conversation, due to its successful execution, and especially the scene in it which places Rudy Giuliani in a compromising position.
While statistics about the audiences of streaming shows can be dicey, Amazon claimed this week that “tens of millions” of viewers have watched the film so far.
Borat began on Baron Cohen’s British shows, and was later featured on the HBO version of Da Ali G Show, before the character was the basis for the original Borat movie in 2006, and then revived for the new movie.
One of the stranger things about Borat is that he’s from Kazakhstan, yet the version of Kazakhstan in the movie doesn’t bear much resemblance to the real thing. While the actual Kazakhstan is in central Asia, the one in the Borat movies more resembles rural Eastern Europe, while Borat doesn’t look at all like an ethnic Kazakh.
What do actual Kazakhs think of Borat? That’s something of a complicated question.
The Borat universe doesn’t make Kazakhstan look especially great, thanks especially to its depiction of the nation as a hellish backwater, prone to corruption, child exploitation, rape, and much more. The new movie even includes a surprise ending that casts the country in a particularly negative light. Kazakhstan also doesn’t spend much time on the world stage for non-Borat-related reasons.
However, it doesn’t appear that country much minds.
Per NPR, Kazakhstan’s tourism board has launched a new ad campaign, using Borat’s catchphrase “Very Nice.”
The reaction, however, has been less positive among one group of Kazakh-Americans. The Kazakh American Association, in fact, has written a letter to Amazon in protest of the movie, on behalf of the “Kazakh-American diaspora.”
“Sacha Baron Cohen and his crew white washes 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, the author of the letter and founder and CEO of the Hollywood Film Academy,” wrote in the letter.
The letter called for Amazon to call off the release of the film; alas, it did not.
“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?” the letter states. “Why is our small nation fair game for public ridicule?”
A separate petition, on a site called Avaaz.org, which is in a mixture of English and Russian, also calls for the film’s cancellation.
“This movie full of racism and xenophobia. They completely desecrate and humiliate Kazakhstan and the dignity of Kazakh nation,” the petition says. “Every time we have to give explanations to foreigners that this film was made as a joke. But as we can see, this is more like a lack of respect for the country and their people than a joke.”
The film is not going to be banned, of course, although if the movie Cuties has any precedent, perhaps it will be subject of a legally dubious indictment in Texas. But in the meantime, it’s not hard to blame those of Kazakh nationality, when their country is associated, in the minds of most, with a character and a fictional version that bears no resemblance to the real thing, and paints a somewhat offensive caricature to boot. And that’s to say nothing of the time at the Amir of Kuwait International Shooting Grand Prix, in Kuwait in 2012, when a Kazakh athlete won a gold medal and the Borat spoof version of the country’s national anthem was mistakenly played: