The Kazakh American Association is speaking out against the Amazon Prime release of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat 2,” which the group says includes racist depictions of Kazakhs that could “incite violence against a highly vulnerable and underrepresented minority ethnic group.” In an October 20 letter sent to Amazon executives (via Variety), the association requested the streaming giant cancel the “Borat 2” release after the original “Borat” film subjected the Kazakh community to “ethnicity-based humiliation.”
“Considering today’s socially aware political climate, why is a racist film which openly berates, bullies and traumatizes a nation comprised of people of color an acceptable form of entertainment that meets Amazon’s ethical values?” the letter states. “Why is our small nation fair game for public ridicule?”
The letter continues: “In this film, a white person adorns a Kazakh persona and then culturally appropriates and belittles everything we stand for. We, Kazakhs, are a small nation, but it does not mean that we are allowed to be targets for racism. Mr. Cohen [sic] states that his primary target is Trump and racist Americans. If this was the case, he would have created a fake country, as he did in the film ‘The Dictator.’ However, Mr. Cohen [sic] chose to openly bully, humiliate and dehumanize an actual nation.”
Gaukhar (Gia) Noortas, the founder and CEO of the Hollywood Film Academy who is a Kazakh native living in Los Angeles, told Variety that “Sacha Baron Cohen and his crew white washes our ethnicity and therefore makes it okay to make fun of us. It would be completely politically incorrect if they were Asian or Black.”
While the Kazakh American Association is condemning “Borat 2,” the nation of Kazakhstan is finally embracing the polarizing fictional character. The New York Times reports that Kazakhstan is now relying on Borat’s “very nice” catchphrases in a series of new tourism ads that are rolling out alongside the release of “Borat 2,” 14 years after the authoritarian Kazakh government originally banned the first “Borat” movie.
Kairat Sadvakassov, the deputy chairman of Kazakhstan’s tourism board, said the nation’s original plan for “Borat 2” was “to let it die its natural death and not respond,” but that soon changed after Dennis Keen, who runs a tourism business in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, and Yermek Utemissov, who arranges film shoots in Kazakhstan, pitched the tourism board on embracing Borat in advertisements.
“I’ve had a lot of free time,” Keen told The Times. “Also, I just had a baby. When he grows up, I don’t want him to be ashamed of Borat. I want him to say, ‘That’s when my dad started this whole fun project.’”
Utemissov added, “It’s a newer generation. They’ve got Twitter, they’ve got Instagram, they’ve got Reddit, they know English, they know memes. They get it. They’re inside the media world. We’re looking at the same comedians, the same Kimmel show. Kazakhstan is globalized.”
“In Covid times, when tourism spending is on hold, it was good to see the country mentioned in the media,” Sadvakassov said. “Not in the nicest way, but it’s good to be out there. We would love to work with [Baron] Cohen, or maybe even have him film here.”
Upon learning Kazakhstan would be using Borat’s catchphrase in tourism ads over a decade after the first film was banned, Baron Cohen sent the following statement to The Times: “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.”
“Borat 2” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.