Analysis: Reassessing the racial stereotyping in ‘Borat’

Analysis: Reassessing the racial stereotyping in 'Borat'


While (Western) critics largely embraced Larry Charles’ 2006 mockumentary “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” a few fictional Kazakh reporter performed by Baron Cohen, many Kazakh viewers denounced the film’s cartoonish portrayal of their nation, which covers swaths of Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

Their studying was that Baron Cohen, who co-wrote and produced the movie, “just randomly pointed his finger at a map” and “took the name of our country and our symbols, and that’s it,” Zarina Smagul, 28, informed Source.

Of course, the responses from “Borat’s” Kazakh viewers weren’t monolithic.

Serik Sharipov, 33, noticed the film in 2006, when he was finding out on the American University in Bulgaria.

“On campus, there were students of many different nationalities, including many Kazakh students, and a group of us went to see ‘Borat’ in the theater,” he mentioned. “It was a bit of a sensation.”

Sharipov recalled a few of his classmates’ defensiveness, the way it made sense. After all, on the time, Kazakhstan was nonetheless determining its identification and the way to talk to the broader world that it had arrived. It was solely in 1991 that the nation declared its independence from the Soviet Union.

To a variety of individuals from Kazakhstan, it felt like a punch within the intestine that “Borat,” with its crass, Western stereotyping of Central Asians, Arabs and Eastern Europeans, primarily grew to become worldwide viewers’ introduction to the younger nation.

Take the opening scene. Borat mirthfully presents his hometown to viewers by acquainting them with “the town rapist,” “the town kindergarten,” the place children tote weapons, and “the No. 4 prostitute in all of Kazakhstan,” his sister.

Yet as a believer within the previous adage that there isn’t any such factor as dangerous publicity, Sharipov mentioned that his expertise with the movie was far more optimistic.

“On learning that I’m from Kazakhstan, classmates would ask me lots of questions about the country,” he mentioned. “Sure, the first few questions would be silly, and people would want to know how close to reality ‘Borat’ is. But then we’d go into interesting discussions, and I’d share information about Kazakhstan’s history.”

Political realities formed Sharipov’s response to “Borat.”

“I’m from a country with heavy censorship. I don’t want my opinion or anyone else’s opinion about what is or isn’t proper comedy to limit what we see,” he mentioned. “I don’t think that ‘Borat’ is really about Kazakhstan. But our reaction to the movie is.”

Still, whereas a few of the jokes in “Borat” work, others do not.

The titular character’s antisemitism, misogyny and racism make for essential, if simple, targets of ridicule. The identical goes for the Americans who indulge Borat’s situationist slapstick; their morally questionable conduct is there for the viewers to skewer. Indeed, “Borat” is at its finest when it is punching up.

For occasion, at one level, a number of White Americans remark to Borat that it is a disgrace that there isn’t any longer slavery of their nation. In their ugliness, such traces are reminders that bigotry nonetheless thrives in America.

At different instances, although, “Borat” appears to be punching down.

“With ‘Borat,’ Baron Cohen reclaimed for ‘First Worlders’ the ‘right’ to mock foreigners from developing nations,” the journalist Inkoo Kang wrote for Slate in 2018. “Only with the Borat accent are the phrases ‘my wife!’ and ‘very nice!’ punchlines we all remember.”

She added: “Baron Cohen’s view of Borat isn’t too dissimilar from how White nationalists here and in Europe view immigrants and refugees: ignorant, violent, prone to sexual assault, unable or unwilling to assimilate. … ‘Borat’ continues to illuminate. But now what it lays bare is the xenophobia we were willing to embrace while pointing fingers at the bigots on-screen.”

Kazakh movie-goers echoed these sentiments, underscoring the movie’s uneven energy dynamics.

“We were just starting to be proud to be Kazakh. Can you imagine what a slap in the face it was to see a movie that doesn’t show anyone who even looks like you?” Smagul informed Source. “I love comedies. We have a lot of movies in which we, Kazakh people, laugh at parts of our culture. But I also love when research was done before filming.”

With “Borat,” she mentioned, it felt as if Baron Cohen had arbitrarily chosen a “foreign-sounding” nation with a view to say one thing profound about faraway America. Meanwhile, these from Kazakhstan had been left to take care of the cultural course-correction that attends a movie equivalent to “Borat.”

Aysana Ashim, 29, was equally direct in her criticism of the film.

As a journalist and activist, she mentioned that she needs to shine a light-weight on the problems beleaguering Kazakhstan. According to Human Rights Watch, “Kazakh authorities routinely break up or prevent peaceful protests criticizing government policies,” and “impunity for torture and ill-treatment persists.”

But “Borat,” Ashim defined, warps the eye the nation receives.

“While the world laughs, we struggle alone with our problems,” she mentioned, including that it is irritating to listen to individuals defend the film by noting that it makes enjoyable of America and European international locations as properly. “That claim is weak because — what do you know about these countries? A lot. You know their culture and history. You can name their famous artists, scientists and politicians. But Kazakhstan isn’t that well known.”

The argument is that “Borat” makes use of Kazakhstan as a prop, as a way of illustrating points in America. But the prop itself is discarded.

Maybe “Borat” helps viewers get to know America a bit bit higher. But no one walks away with a deeper data of Kazakhstan. Some may even learn that final sentence and chuckle. Which, in fact, is a part of the issue.

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