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Is Sacha Baron Cohen racist? MTV Movie and TV award may just validate his 'sexist and xenophobic' movie roles

Sacha Baron Cohen is about to receive the comedic genius award at the MTV Movie & TV Awards, this at a cost where it might validate all the racist things the characters he's played have said
UPDATED MAY 17, 2021
Sacha Baron Cohen is famous for playing Borat Sagdiyev, a character which has been slammed for its racist undertones (Getty Images)
Sacha Baron Cohen is famous for playing Borat Sagdiyev, a character which has been slammed for its racist undertones (Getty Images)

Borat, Bruno, Ali G, or General Alladin - all four characters made famous by Sacha Baron Cohen as he played them in various films them have been debated for their racist undertones. Cohen is set to receive the comedic genius award at the MTV Movie & TV Awards, a two-day event that begins on Sunday, May 16.

He's all set to receive the golden popcorn honoring his long-standing career spanning twenty years. This comes at a cost that it might yet again validate all the racist as well as sexist things Cohen's characters have said in the films.


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Sacha Baron Cohen, winner of the Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy during the 78th Annual Golden Globe Virtual General Press Room on February 28, 2021 (Getty Images)

In his 2006 mockumentary Borat, Cohen played an anti-semitic TV anchor from Kazakhstan who visits the United States. In one of the scenes, unaware customers at a country and western bar joined him in a sing-along version of his song 'Throw the Jew Down the Well'. Cohen was born to Jewish parents and he might have been making jokes on one's own community but that didn't help to curb the criticism. The Anti-Defamation League at the time worried that 'Borat' might promote anti-semitism among certain groups rather than thwart it. Then in 2009, he starred in the mockumentary 'Brüno', where his character Bruno Gerhard, confused the word "hummus" with "Hamas" as he tried to negotiate peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Last year, the Kazakh American Association slammed Cohen ahead of the release of the sequel 'Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm' for “racism, cultural appropriation, and xenophobia”. The letter sent to Amazon demanding that the release be canceled was signed by Gaukhar Noortas, founder and CEO of the Hollywood Film Academy, and Ayauly Akylkhan, chair of the board of the Kazakh American Association.

Sacha Baron Cohen attends the Netflix 2020 Golden Globes After Party on January 05, 2020 in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

The letter recognized that the movie was a satire but at the same time expressed displeasure at not using a fictionalized name but choosing the actual nation of Kazakhstan in the film. The letter said that Kazakh children had to face bullying because many didn't recognize 'Borat' as satire and believed it was an actual representation of Kazakhstan and its culture.

"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 read. “Why is our small nation fair game for public ridicule?" it continued. It was further stated that the film could "incite violence against a highly vulnerable and underrepresented minority ethnic group.

Sacha Baron Cohen attends a screening of the Oscars on April 26, 2021 in Sydney, Australia (Getty Images)

“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] chose to openly bully, humiliate and dehumanize an actual nation," the letter continued.

Amazon didn't offer a comment but Cohen replied to the letter. “This is a comedy, and the Kazakhstan in the film has nothing to do with the real country,” Cohen said in a statement. “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.”