The Kazakh American Association is requesting the Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Directors Guild of America Awards and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards bar Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” from awards consideration for what it deems racist portrayal of Kazakhs. The petition follows a request to cancel the release of the Amazon Prime Video debut of the film Oct. 23.
The Virginia-based nonprofit organization dedicated to “preserving and promoting” Kazakh heritage and culture in the U.S. slammed the movie and Baron Cohen for adopting a Kazakh persona through his character, a nonsensical Kazakh journalist named Borat Sagdiyev. Kazakhstan, a predominantly Muslim nation, is a Central Asian country that shares a border with Russia in the north, China to the east, and Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to the south.
The letter, co-signed by the Hollywood Film Academy and Council on American-Islamic Relations, states that the film promotes “whitewashing, ethnic stereotyping, racism, cultural appropriation, and xenophobia.”
“The Kazakh community worldwide is underrepresented and inherently vulnerable,” the letter read. “Our nation is still recovering from an oppressive colonial past, which is why we do not have substantial media representation. Sacha Baron Cohen understands this fact and exploits Kazakhstan by hijacking our ethnic identity, whitewashing us by portraying us as Eastern Europeans, and inciting harassment toward Kazakh people worldwide. Our people report countless cases of sexual and physical harassment as well as bullying due to the Borat franchise.”
The letter emphasizes that Baron Cohen could have created a fake nation, such as he did with his film “The Dictator,” instead of portraying Kazakhstan. The Kazakh American Association adds that the sequel mocks Kazakh culture and traditions by exploiting them for a Western audience’s enjoyment and portraying them as “misogynistic, incestuous, anti-Semitic, and barbarous.”
In a statement from CAIR, HFA CEO Gia Noortas and CAIR’s Tampa Bay’s regional coordinator Hiba Rahim said that since the 2006 “Borat” film, Kazakhs have been subject to the psychological effects of ethnic-based discrimination, with Kazakh children facing bullying at school and Kazakh women being exposed to sexual harassment. Furthermore, the statement alleges Kazakhstan’s relatively small population was used by Baron Cohen who knew that Kazakhs “lack the political or economic power” to form a large collective to denounce and boycott the film.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment, but Baron Cohen said in a statement to the New York Times on Oct. 26, “This is a comedy, and the Kazakhstan in the film has nothing to do with the real country. I chose Kazakhstan because it was a place that almost nobody in the U.S. knew anything about, which allowed us to create a wild, comedic, fake world. The real Kazakhstan is a beautiful country with a modern, proud society — the opposite of Borat’s version.”
Meanwhile, the Kazakhstan government has not reacted as strongly to the sequel as it did to the first film, which was banned in the country. The country has incorporated Borat’s “Very nice!” catchphrase into an upbeat new tourism campaign titled “Kazakhstan. Very Nice!” that features actors declaring the phrase in response to various landmarks and cultural activities.