A group of Kazakh-Americans has demanded that Amazon withdraw Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen’s new satirical comedy which – like its 2006 predecessor Borat – identifies Kazakhstan as the home country of its fictional journalist character Borat Sagdiyev.
In a letter published on social media shortly before the film’s official launch, addressed to three senior Amazon executives, the Kazakh American Association says that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm “may cause irreparable harm to to Kazakhstan’s national image and people as its comedic nature may justify ethnicity-based harassment”. It adds: “This film incites violence against a highly vulnerable and under-represented minority ethnic group.”
A petition on Avaaz, set up in early October, demanding the cancellation of the film’s release, currently has more than 110,000 signatures.
The protest reflects similar complaints in 2006 on the release of the first Borat film, after which Baron Cohen was forced to defend his selection of Kazakhstan as the butt of onscreen jokes.
However, in contrast to the current protest, Kazakh Tourism, the country’s official tourist board, has adopted Borat’s catchphrase “Very nice!” for a campaign encouraging travellers to visit Kazakhstan. In 2012, the country’s foreign minister Erzhan Kazykhanov thanked the film for increasing its profile, saying the number of visa applications has increased tenfold. He added: “I am grateful to Borat for helping attract tourists to Kazakhstan.”
Another of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’s difficulties appears to have been resolved after a lawsuit filed by the estate of Judith Dim Evans, a Holocaust survivor who appears in the film, was dismissed. Deadline reports that a judge in the US state of Georgia refused the suit, which alleged that Evans was deceived about her participation and that the film aimed to “mock the Holocaust and Jewish culture”.
Evans, who died before the film was released, features in a scene in which Borat visits a synagogue and says he has read on Facebook that the Holocaust never happened. Baron Cohen, who is an outspoken campaigner against Holocaust denial and Facebook misinformation dedicated Borat Subsequent Moviefilm to Evans, and his production team told Deadline that she was told afterwards of the satirical nature of the scene.
Baron Cohen had earlier fended off attacks from President Trump and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, after the latter appeared in a compromising scene in the film. Trump was quoted by reporters as saying: “I don’t find [Baron Cohen] funny. To me, he’s a creep”; Baron Cohen replied on social media saying: “I admit, I don’t find you funny either.” Giuliani described the scene he appears in as “a total fabrication”; Baron Cohen responded in character as Borat “defending” Giuliani’s “innocent sexytime encounter” with Maria Bakalova, the actor playing Borat’s teenage daughter.