By Anastasia Bekker
Elm Staff Writer
Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” released on Oct. 23, 2020, on Amazon Prime, targets the culture of sexism, racism, and ant-Semitism in America. Despite the heavy topics, Baron Cohen’s absurd sense of humor makes the movie enjoyable.
The protagonist of the “moviefilm” is Borat, a disgraced Kazakh journalist famous from the 2006 film of the same name. He must deliver his daughter, Tutar — played by Maria Bakalova — to Vice President Mike Pence, a scheme that will supposedly put Kazakhstan in America’s good graces.
Borat’s character is driven by the backwards notions he has learned from his home country, a warped portrayal of Kazakhstan. Although Kazakhstan banned the original “Borat” in 2006, they’ve recently used his image and catchphrases in a tourism campaign.
The Kazakh public has had mixed reactions to this, however, as Baron Cohen’s portrayal of Kazakhstan is not flattering, according to reports from The New York Times.
Throughout the film, Baron Cohen and Bakalova act out their wacky characters in public spaces, including the Macon Debutante Ball in Georgia, the Conservative Political Action Conference, and the Hillsborough Republican Women’s Club. What makes the film surprising, revolting, and sometimes touching is the responses of strangers to their antics.
Some strangers actively try to help Borat and his daughter overcome their ignorance. Two women in a synagogue come across Borat wearing a horrendous disguise based on Jewish stereotypes — they patiently explain that these stereotypes are wrong and the three end up hugging.
However, the passiveness of strangers to Borat’s offensive comments about women and the Jewish community is disheartening. Borat buys a cage, explaining that it is for his daughter to live in; the seller does not seem to care. Borat asks a baker to write an anti-Semitic message on a cake; she does it without complaint. The list goes on.
“In 2005, you needed a character like Borat who was misogynist, racist, anti-Semitic to get people to reveal their inner prejudices,” Baron Cohen said to The New York Timeswriter Maureen Dowd on Oct. 17. “Now those inner prejudices are overt.”
Tutar’s character development as she discovers the misogyny of her home country and her father’s plan of “marrying” her off to Mike Pence makes Bakalova the breakout star of the movie. Her enthusiastic portrayal of Tutar makes the character’s arc from naivete to self-assurance and independence compelling.
The role of Tutar required the actress to deal with unnerving, unscripted situations. The uncomfortable fact that the various men ogling Bakalova throughout the film are not paid actors, but real people acting as they normally would, is intended to make the audience squirm.
One especially controversial scene took place between Bakalova and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, after the actress interviewed him as Tutar.
The two walked into a bedroom following the interview; Giuliani laid down to “adjust his shirt” before Borat entered the room, saying, “She’s fifteen, she’s too old for you.”
“Sacha jumped into the room quickly, because he’s been worried about me,” Bakalova said to The New York Timeswriter Dave Itzkoff on Nov. 11. “So, if he were late, I don’t know how things were going to go. But he came just in time.”
From political celebrities to medical professionals, the movie caught various men acting in a predatory way towards Bakalova, who they were told was 15 years old.
“[I]t’s clear what the filmmakers are implying: In America, those who idolize a certain kind of female aesthetic and feel free to ogle are laughably easy to exploit, whether by grifters, or spies, or social climbers, or just screwball comedians,” Vox journalist Alissa Wilkinson said on Oct. 23.
This point is clearly displayed during a scene at the debutante ball, when Borat points to Tutar and asks another debutante’s father how much he thinks she’s worth. To the disgust of his daughter, the man laughs and replies, “five-hundred dollars.”
After becoming aware of the sexism she faces, Tutar runs away from her father, who then turns to two strangers to help him search for her. While allowing Borat to stay with them during quarantine, the two begin to tell Borat QAnon conspiracy theories, saying that the Clinton family manufactured the COVID-19 virus and kidnapped children.
“[T]hey’re ordinary folks who are good people, who have just been fed this diet of lies,” Baron Cohen said about the conspiracy theorists.
Despite the revealing nature of the film, it was not intended to be an exposé on the American people — Baron Cohen argues that we’re already aware of the rampant prejudice in the US.
“My aim here was not to expose racism and anti-Semitism,” Baron Cohen told Dowd about the Borat sequel. “The aim is to make people laugh, but we reveal the dangerous slide to authoritarianism.”
The film was not always successful in making people laugh. For some, the racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism that Baron Cohen easily uncovered outweighed the movie’s comedic value.
“The elaborate ruses of ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ left me neither entertained nor enraged, but simply resigned,” The New York Timesjournalist Devika Girish said on Oct. 21.
The elaborate ruses and absurdity of “Borat” may not fit your sense of humor, but the culture revealed by the movie can’t be denied.
Whether you’re in it for the laughs or the cultural insight, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is worth a watch.
Featured Photo caption: With the success of the first “Borat” movie, a sequel was sure to come out — and now, amid a tense political and social climate within the U.S., Sacha Baron Cohen was able to deliver. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia.