FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
So far, the star of the controversial film “Borat” has been threatened with lawsuits, including one by the country of Kazakhstan. Star Sacha Baron Cohen recently told London's Guardian newspaper that he picked Kazakhstan to parody as anti-Semitic, among other things, because no one had ever heard anything about it. Here's commentator Robin Washington's defense of the film that he says brings hidden prejudice to life.
(Soundbite of movie “Borat”)
Mr. SACHA BARON COHEN (Actor): (As Borat) (Singing) In my country there is problem.
Mr. ROBIN WASHINGTON: Does anyone know the words to “Throw the Jew Down the Well?” Or directions to the ranch in Texas where you can shoot exotic animals and even discuss hunting a Jew? Those are some of the antics of the socially inappropriate, anti-Semitic, sexist, and yet somehow endearing fake Kazakh journalist Borat.
And if you haven't seen his movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” I won't ruin it for you. Neither of those episodes, which are posted on the Web, made it into the film. An alter ego of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat is widely popular for his ability to trick unsuspecting people into saying stupid things on camera.
Take his visit to the Serengeti Ranch in Texas where Borat, referring to the big nose people that like the money, got proprietor Gene Gordon to say it would be fine with him if hunters could not only shoot deer but Jews. If you think that was a fluke, Borat got a whole bar full of people to sing along with him on this song.
(Soundbite of movie “Borat”)
Mr. COHEN: (As Borat) (Singing) Throw the Jew down the well.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Throw the Jew down the well.
Mr. COHEN: (As Borat) (Singing) So my country can be free.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) So my country can be free.
Mr. COHEN: (As Borat) (Singing) You must grab him by his horns.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) You must grab him by his horns.
Mr. COHEN: (As Borat) (Singing) Then we have a big party.
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. WASHINGTON: Even a drunken Mel Gibson didn't go that far. In the movie, not all of Borat's victims say or do anything so socially unacceptable. But he did get a group of South Carolina frat boys to talk about keeping women as slaves. They're now suing, claiming they only signed a released after being plied with alcohol.
So is Borat performing a public service by holding a mirror up to the U-S and A, as he calls us, to view our not so pretty underbelly? Well, yes and no. While Borat exposes prejudice, he does so at the cost of sending up another culture. His spoken Kazakh is entirely gibberish and his depictions of the country insulting and untrue. It's also unnecessary. Cohen could have just as easily invented an imaginary homeland for Borat. To use the local pig latin or Rotbaystan(ph) would have work just fine.
But his tricks do serve a purpose in getting millions of people to talk about bigotry, and that includes Kathy Gordon(ph), the widow of Serengeti Ranch owner Gene Gordon. Unlike the frat boys, she's not disputing signing a release, and she told me her husband made a terrible mistake. She apologized to the entire world for his remarks. There's another change at the Serengeti Ranch. It's now a bed and breakfast and animal sanctuary, meaning visitors can look at the animals but no longer hunt them, and certainly not Jews.
(Soundbite of music)
CHIDEYA: Robin Washington is editorial page editor at the Duluth News Tribune.