WARNING: This column contains spoilers.
What is more important–the truth or being morally correct? This is the question that looms over the newly released BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM (2020) (sequel to the original BORAT film from 2006). The star and creator, Sacha Baron Cohen, has said he wanted to release this movie before the election to “be a reminder to women of who they’re voting for — or who they’re not voting for.” In order to do so, he uses “hidden camera” tricks to capture Americans at their worst, in part for laughs, and in part to warn us what the ugly side of Americans truly look like. There is already talk that he deserves to win the Oscars for his brave undercover work to shine light on the truth.
Does it matter if it wasn’t true?
The plot is simple: Borat, shunned in Kazakhstan after the first movie embarrassed the country, is given a second chance to redeem himself. He is to travel to America to try and make amends with our new Great Leader Trump. Stowing away on his trip is a fifteen year old daughter who had been living in the stables and treated like all Kazak women–like non humans. He first gets the idea to make her an offering to Pence and, when that fails, to offer her to Rudy Giuliani (in a now-famous climactic scene). He has second thoughts and becomes a feminist. He meets and embarrasses many conservatives along the way. Then we find out he was sent to the US in order to spread a newly manufactured virus and take down the nation. We are then treated to a happy scene at the end where we’re shown that Kazakhstan no longer finds Jews to be the most horrible thing in the world; they now come in second to Americans.
While the plot seems thin, no one really watches Cohen’s work for the story. They watch it for racists, bigots, and other horrible people to humiliate themselves in funny ways. In this movie not only is Giuliani the target but a bakery owner who fills his order for a cake that says “Jews Will Not Replace Us” before letting his daughter buy a cupcake with a small plastic baby on it. He embarrasses a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center he goes to in order to “remove the baby he put in his daughter’s stomach.” They enlist the help of a “social media influencer” to train his daughter to be a proper, submissive sugar baby. He humiliates the attendees at a debutante ball when he and his daughter do the traditional Kazak “Moon Blood Dance” which involves her showing off her crotch covered in menstrual blood, much to their horror. A cell phone salesman is treated to him using test phones to watch porn. He holes up with two QAnon followers for five days when the pandemic starts and has them lead him to a Trump rally.
There are others, but two stand out as non-horrible people. There’s the older African American woman hired to babysit his teenage daughter who teaches her that women can do things like read or drive cars, and tries to get her to stand up for her own rights. There is also the most cringe-worthy scene where Borat, depressed after his daughter learned from FaceBook that the Holocaust, Kazakhstan’s proudest moment, was fake. He walks into a synagogue to commit suicide by waiting for the next mass shooting. There he meets a Holocaust survivor who tells him–with much more respect than his character deserves–that it did indeed happen. He leaves the temple skipping with joy that the Holocaust was real.
There is a lot of debate on what gotcha moments actually happened. The influencer, Macey Chanel, was under the impression she was cast in a Netflix series and was playing a role. She had no idea she would be presented as being herself, or that what she said reflects what she actually felt.
The bakery owner isn’t talking but it was reported in her local newspaper and on Yelp that it was not a normal day at the bakery and they were paid to have a movie made there. Still, the negative reviews are piling up and their FaceBook posts are being removed (whether by themselves or by FaceBook I’m not certain).
The debutante ball? The participants were paid $100 as extras for what they thought was a fictional film. The participants were quizzed on pop culture and the ones who had heard of Borat were turned away. Many of the participants walked out during the “dance.”
One of the sequences there isn’t much information about is where the conspiracy theorists, Jim and Jerry, take him in at the start of the pandemic. Neither of the men have spoken to the media. Cohen said this was one of the most difficult parts–spending five days with the men and staying in character as they tried to educate him on “the truth.” Upon first watching it seemed strange that these supposedly horrible people would invite a homeless foreigner into their home for five days at the start of the pandemic. It also seemed strange that the two wouldn’t notice the multiple cameramen (the shots and angles didn’t appear to be hidden camera footage). Then I looked up the March For Our Rights 3 rally they escorted him to at the end of his stay. It took place on June 27th of this year. The lockdown in Washington state ended June 1st. The five day window he claims doesn’t make mathematical sense.
Speaking of the rally, there are also question about the authenticity of that footage. In the film’s timeline he volunteers to go on stage and sing a song decrying Obama, liberals, the media, the Jews, and many other groups. In the movie he’s met with cheers, people singing along, and even a man with a blurred out face giving a Nazi salute. Cohen has said filming at the pro-gun rally was terrifying:
Cohen was performing at the rally as Country Steve, and duped the crowd into joyfully singing along to an incredibly racist, hateful song. What he was unaware of at the time though, is that he wasn’t the only one undercover. Cohen explained that some of the militia groups that were at the rally had been antagonizing the Black Lives Matter protest. Some BLM protesters decided to confront the militia groups, but first sent some of their own into the rally incognito to check out the situation, and Cohen said it was the BLM protesters who recognized him.
Yahoo Entertainment News
“They see me onstage, and everyone’s singing along, and one of them went, ‘Oh my God, it’s Sacha Baron Cohen.’ Starts laughing, tells the other one, word got out that it was me, and then the organizers and a lot of people in the crowd got very angry,” Cohen said. “They tried to storm the stage. Luckily for me, I had hired the security, so it took them a while to actually storm the stage.”
The event’s organizer, Matt Marshall, had a different take on it. He had been contacted by a group calling themselves Back To Work U.S.A. to help sponsor the rally. Marshall said he wanted to try and clean up the image of the Three Percent group and other Second Amendment organizations. He wanted people to know they weren’t racist. The spokesperson for Back To Work U.S.A. sympathized and spent $50,000 on things like portable toilets and security. At the last minute they requested the inclusion of a musical act. That act was Borat in disguise as a redneck singer. While some people did sing along and applaud, half the participants walked out. The anger was shown by people shouting “racist go home!” A person did rush the stage screaming–a young man wearing an Israeli flag calling out his anti-Semitism saying his grandmother survived the Holocaust, lost her family in it, and how dare he say those things. There is video of that uploaded two days after the rally:
And these are the people we are supposed to look down on, the ones to make us appreciate the “happy” ending where the Kazak people learn to hate Americans.
I get that, especially as we get closer to the election, we’re supposed to look down on the right wingers, the conspiracy theorists, the bigots. They’re not like us, and we have video footage proving that. If we’re to look beyond the surface of that footage, we see a different story. While the rally did have racists and white supremacists, that wasn’t the whole population. Are there anti-Semitic bakers? Undoubtedly, but was the one in the movie one of them, worth having her business boycotted? That’s where the truth gets murky. The argument can be made that we’re in a culture war and we need to do anything we can to make sure Trump doesn’t get elected. Besides, if a couple of innocent people get labeled as bigots, does that hurt much?
Even the ones who weren’t meant to be hated weren’t happy with their portrayal. Jeanise Jones, the babysitter, had been recruited from her Baptist church to be in what they thought was a documentary about saving a young girl from trafficking and exploitation. She thought she was saving this girl and had been truly worried for her safety from the time it was filmed until she learned of the movie. Judith Evans, the Holocaust survivor, passed away soon after her scene had been filmed. Cohen revealed to her after filming that it was fictional, and stated it was for a movie against Holocaust denial. Despite that, her family filed a lawsuit saying she wasn’t made aware of the true nature of the film. The suit was dismissed because Evans did sign a contract and was aware that the film was fictional.
In Cohen’s defense, he dedicated the movie to Evans and helped set up a website dedicated to her and her story. He also donated $100,000 to Jones’ church. Were some of the things he did to achieve “truth” in the movie dirty and underhanded? Absolutely. But Cohen is also human, and capable of great acts of decency as well as deplorability. Just like the Second Amendment protesters. Just like conspiracy theorists. Just like every human out there.
We absolutely need to defeat Trump and his cronies on November 3rd. His supporters need to learn they were wrong. But if we allow their humanity to be erased, do we lose a little of our humanity? Can we have moral correctness without truth?
This is an open thread. Take care.
*A footnote: that Giuliani scene that takes place during a half hour or so at a New York hotel? It was crafted from footage taken in three different states and a different continent.