Actor and activist Sacha Baron Cohen quickly became a household name after the release of his hit film “Borat” in 2006. The arrival of the sequel, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” on Friday, Oct. 23, has again made a huge splash. In reaffirming that hate has no home in the society we are striving toward, establishing meaningful dialogue on how to appropriately handle Cohen’s work in both Borat films is essential. Especially now.
To be clear, we should appreciate that Cohen’s work in revealing people’s indifferences toward – and capacity for – things like racism, homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia and antisemitism provides us with a valuable opportunity to work on becoming a more pluralistic and accepting society. Cohen’s record as an activist and ally is not and never has been in question to me. His unquestionable passion for movements like Stop Hate for Profit, human rights, social justice and more has undoubtedly made the world a better place. However, despite being made with the intention of getting people to “let down their guard and reveal what they actually believe, including their own prejudice,” much of Cohen’s film work does also risk reinforcing harmful stereotypes and hateful rhetoric – and hurting minorities.
As a Jewish American, I personally feel that no amount of good intentions will ever justify singing “throw the Jew down the well so our country can be free” on film. Some might disagree, and I understand that some might believe that it was justified because it was perhaps a necessary part of Cohen’s effort to expose indifferences to antisemitism. Although I’m not inclined to agree, I respect that opinion. But it certainly goes without saying that there is no excuse for this rhetoric and rhetoric like it to ever be repeated in any capacity whatsoever. And it’s always disappointing and concerning when it does get repeated.
The first Borat film is listed under the genre of comedy on IMDb’s website. Some might say it’s an apt characterization of the film. But by viewing, promoting and talking about this film and its sequel through the comedic lens, we run the risk of trivializing and satirizing real social issues that must never be trivialized or satirized. Recognizing and discussing the Borat films not as comedy, but instead as a soberingly contemplative social commentary, is an important step forward.
Building safe spaces for ethnic and religious minorities means accepting that we all need to be considerate in how we think and talk about these films. People of all minority groups feel marginalized by various forms of media all too often, in one way or another. And depending on how we as a society choose to handle this “Subsequent Moviefilm,” it could very well prove to be no exception.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is sure to offer us the reality check we so desperately need to better ourselves as a society, but the same issues that sprung up with the release of the first Borat film are bound to repeat themselves. So please, if you’re reading this, take it upon yourselves to foster nothing but safe, appropriate and meaningful discussion regarding these films, and speak out against hurtful and inappropriate references. As always, we have the power to make sure that hate has no home here, but not one of us can do it without the other.
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