Nathan Abrams looks forward to Borat sequel and how it will deal with contemporary antisemitism.
It has been fourteen years since the release of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) but the trailer for the sequel has just dropped.
In that initial installment, Sacha Baron Cohen treated us to a gloriously jaw-dropping, hilarious exercise in physical humour.
As the titular Borat Sagdiyev, Sacha Baron Cohen played a Jew-hating, yet paradoxically Hebrew-speaking, Kazakh reporter. (Did Baron-Cohen speak Hebrew because he correctly calculated that most audiences wouldn’t know it wasn’t Kazakh, or was it a nod and wink to his Jewish audiences to say, ‘It’s okay, I’m kosher’?).
His Borat displayed a consistent irreverence towards topics and subject matter where other Jews fear to tread. Never one to walk on a tightrope of political correctness, he crossed the line at all times. Almost every ancient, anti-Jewish stereotype is lampooned.
His unique journalistic style exposed and mocked contemporary antisemitism, facilitating open utterances of prejudice. In one scene, he had customers at a country and western bar enthusiastically sing along to his ditty, ‘Throw the Jew down the well’.
In my country there is problem, And that problem is transport. It take very very long, Because Kazakhstan is big. Throw transport down the well, So my country can be free. So my country can be free! We must make travel easy, Then we have a big party. In my country there is problem, And that problem is the jew. They take everybody money, They never give it back. Throw the jew down the well, So my country can be free. So my country can be free! You must grub him by his horns, Then we have a big party. If you see the jew coming, You must be careful of his teeth. You must grab him by his money, And I tell you what to do. Everybody! Throw…
The film was saturated with other representations of antisemitism. The ‘Running of the Jew’ sequence has got to be one of the most imaginative Jewish moments ever conceived.
Here, in a carnivalesque public event, mimicking the running of the bulls in Pamplona Spain, the crowd waves money at giant and gross caricatures of a Jewish couple. The female ‘Mrs. Jew’ lays a ‘Jew egg’ which is then crushed by the participating children before the ‘Jew chick hatches’. It anticipated the real-life floats at a Belgian carnival which drew ire because of its anti-Jewishness. Borat concludes his ‘report’ with the words that his country has a problem, ‘Economic, social and Jew’.
As a modern-day Peter Sellers, Baron Cohen is a chameleonic character who rarely appears as himself outside of the film screen. In the intervening years, he has played a variety of roles, both serious and humorous.
These includes parts as the legendary Israeli real-life spy, Eli Cohen, in the television mini-series The Spy; his own television show featuring a variety of characters, Who Is America?; Grimsby-born yob in The Brothers Grimsby; a Jew-hating (of course) Middle Eastern dictator in The Dictator, as well as various other roles in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Les Misérables, the Madagascar trilogy, Hugo and Brüno.
His last outing in The Spy and his current one as (also real-life) Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7 suggested he was moving to more serious roles.
But Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan puts paid to all of that to suggest a return to previous form. The trailer indicates that the physical gags and set ups that place fictional characters in real-life situations will not change.
What will be interesting, though, is how and if he will tackle antisemitism. Given that the nature and extent of it has changed over the previous fourteen years, will he treat it with the same irreverence as he did before?
I, for one, look forward to finding out when the film is released later this month.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm will be available on Amazon Prime from October 23rd.