The internet has been ablaze this week in the leadup to the long awaited sequel to Sacha Baron Cohen’s famously provocative comedy Borat. The amusingly titled film Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was shot in secret last year and finally dropped on Amazon Prime early this morning following days of critical acclaim and rumors about it’s content. While I have yet to see the film as of yet, the film’s content has been hot discussion as leaks provided to The Guardian have proven quite implicating to for New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani.
As The Guardian reports:
“In the film, released on Friday, the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat’s daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist. Following an obsequious interview for a fake conservative news programme, the pair retreat at her suggestion for a drink to the bedroom of a hotel suite, which is rigged with concealed cameras. After she removes his microphone, Giuliani, 76, can be seen lying back on the bed, fiddling with his untucked shirt and reaching into his trousers. They are then interrupted by Borat who runs in and says: “She’s 15. She’s too old for you.”
The news spread online quickly and Giuliani was quick to deny the claims made against him. Photos were quickly released online following the original claim that showed Giuliani in a compromising position.
The incident certainly caught the attention of progressive Twitter who quickly found themselves clambering to watch the film and see how bad the movie makes Donald Trump’s lawyer look.
Some have even suggested that the act frames Giuliani in a pedophilic light although, supposedly, he was under the impression that she was of legal age. Regardless, the film caught President Trump’s lawyer with his pant’s literally down. Twitter ate the incident up.
This kind of sting is nothing new for Sacha Baron Cohen. As FilmCritHulk writes, his method in films like Borat is “where you basically need to egg people into being comfortable so they expose their worst selves.”
We saw this in 2018 when Sacha Baron Cohen did sting interviews for his Showtime series Who is America? with conservatives like Sarah Palin, Roy Moore, Dick Cheney, Corey Lewandowski, Sheriff David Clark and Sheriff Joe Arpaio to try and put them in embarrassing and compromising positions.
This kind of undercover sting was definitely the strategy of the original Borat. That film shot hidden camera scenes such as the infamous one where his Kazakhstani alter-ego managed to drum up an entire bar of rural Americans to sing along to his song “Throw the Jew Down the Well, So I can Make My Country Free”.
Naturally the joke here is as much on the audience as it was on the people viewing it. If you watch the scene, the majority of the audience are staring at Borat’s song is slack jawed disbelief and don’t seem to know how to handle someone singing a song THIS anti-Semitic. Naturally a handful of bar patrons get WAY too into it… There clearly is an element of anti-Semitism being skewered here but the energy of the scene is bewilderment.
This wasn’t exactly the takeaway Sacha Baron Cohen took away from the encounter though. Cohen believes his work is a deep expose on the underlying hatred of American life. He thinks every ounce of bigotry he’s able to wring reflects the mainstream consensus on the American right no matter how fringe the voice and no matter how coerced the supposed evidence.
Cohen went as far as to demand extreme social media censorship in his acceptance speech for an ADL Award last November against hateful rhetoric, climate change denial and fake news. He even suggested Mark Zuckerberg ought to be arrested should another mass shooter use his platform to stream a massacre like the Christchurch killer did.
The hypocrisy of this is self evident as Cohen’s work contains ironic racist, homophobic and sexist undertones that would be considered illegal under any serious system that scrutinized the depictions of marginalized groups in media.
Whatever you think of Cohen and his work, the videos for Borat 2 speak for themselves. Giuliani is responsible for his own actions and will have to deal with the personal disruption such an embarrassment causes in his private and public lives.
Of course, there are more reasonable reasons to be concerned about what Borat 2 is trying to accomplish as a film. As embarrassing and unsettling as the rumors were, they were followed quickly by additional reporting about just how political the film was this time around. This time around, the film is going for a far more nakedly partisan premise. The timing of the film’s release just two weeks before the American presidential election certainly isn’t an accident. The film is all but a direct endorsment for the Biden campaign.
Keep in mind, the film’s full title is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The film’s very premise is louded. You know going into the film that the premise is that the title character is trying to track down Vice President Mike Pence to bribe him on behalf of his eastern block former Soviet government.
The film doesn’t appear to stop merely with riffing the Russian Collusion scandal at it’s face. As The Lamplight Review reports:
“Cohen has long been lauded for his uncanny ability to remain in character, even in the most extreme circumstances, but even he admits to his limits being tested during a sequence where he quarantines for five days with a pair of QAnon truthers. But Bakalova proves to nearly be Cohen’s equal, showcasing immense poise while relating a very graphic, very personal experience to a room full of shocked faces at a Republican Women’s Club gathering. But nowhere does the young actress impress more than during the film’s coup de grace, a sit-down interview with a prominent member of President Trump’s inner circle that will undoubtedly be the cause of much consternation — and possibly even the impetus for a lawsuit — when the film releases. Cohen’s comedy has become far more left-leaning in recent years, as evidenced by the Showtime series Who is America?, wherein he would often target conservative politicians, commentators and other personalities. But Borat Subsequent Moviefilm practically amounts to comedic activism, with its skewering of religious-based “women’s health” clinics, bonkers conspiracy theories and right-wing racism (pretending to be a country artist, he leads a rally of Trump supporters in a horrifying sing-along about injecting Barack Obama “with the Wuhan flu” and chopping up journalists “like the Saudis do”).
There’s evidently going to be a lot to unpack in Borat 2. It may be going after fringe voices like Qanon types and conspiracy theorists but a lot of the riffing sounds like cruel manipulation and mocking less than insane people. If he really went out of his way to castigate Crisis Pregnancy Centers and Women’s Republican groups, that would be hard to register as anything more than a dick move.
“Comedy make fun usually mean “punching up” but punching down more fun when you’re Borat-ing.”Kyle Smith, National Review, October 22, 2020
Much of this will become more evident in the passing days as the film proliferates and gets discussed online so we will have to wait and see just how Borat 2 approaches these topics. Maybe it’s finding ways to call out genuine bigotry or maybe it’s punching down at everyday lower class Republicans. That remains to be seen.