(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime
The Pitch: Lifted from the sketch comedy series Da Ali G Show, this mockumentary finds comedian Sacha Baron Cohen playing fictional Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev, who is tasked by the Kazakh Ministry of Information to film a documentary on what makes the United States of America the greatest country in the world. As Borat makes his way through the US, he tries to learn about America’s culture and customs while offending and confusing a variety of real Americans who have no idea they’re being filmed for a movie.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: In the years following the success of Borat, it was hard to walk around a college campus or a bar without hearing someone enthusiastically saying, “Very nice!” or shouting “My wife!” whenever anyone made the grave error of nonchalantly referring to their spouse. Those quotes, a naked fight, and an attack on Pamela Anderson are probably what is most remembered about this outrageous and hilarious and comedy, but Borat isn’t just a collection of offensive humor and inappropriate jokes. It’s an embarrassing but unfortunately not-so-shocking indictment of the worse parts of America.
The genius satire of Borat first comes from crafting a character who fits into the shortsighted and uneducated perspective that many Americans have about countries like Kazakhstan. The depiction of the country itself is one of parody, making Borat’s hometown look like a poor, incestuous, crime-ridden village. Then it’s thrown into overdrive when Borat interacts with real people who somehow believe that a person like Borat could be so ignorant and uncivilized. And it’s in their reactions to Borat’s antics that we see the dark side of America.
There’s the rodeo manager who agrees that homosexuals need to be hanged as they are said to be in Kazakhstan. There’s the rodeo crowd who cheers when Borat hopes that George W. Bush drink the blood of every single man, woman, and child of Iraq. There’s the trio of road tripping South Carolina college students who are racist, sexist, drunken buffoons. These are the kind of people who felt seen and heard under George W. Bush’s presidency as his administration instilled a prejudice and fear in the hearts of Americans following the 9/11 attacks.
Borat’s behavior and words re offensive, but they’re nothing more than a caricature of how Americans have come to view certain nations and their people. His attitude towards women, the Jewish people, and complete ignorance all around are all set-ups to reveal the real America. Thankfully, it’s not all bad, as some people are willing to accept Borat for who he is without buying into the more offensive aspects of his character. Though the Pentecostal church he ends up at when he’s at his lowest feels more like a cult, at least they don’t hesitate to offer him a blessing, even if it’s unsettling in its own way. Plus, the driving instructor Borat works with was a real hoot too.
Back in 2006, Kazakhstan felt like they had to do damage control after Borat depicted the country so poorly. And sure, it was a dictatorship under the same ruler for 30 years until just last year, with plenty of corruption in the government and all the unsavory things that come with it. But America needs to do some damage control too, because here we are today with an administration that has not only continued to vilify Muslims, but many other minorities as well. That’s why Borat is returning with a sequel on Amazon Prime later this month, and 15 years after he first came to our country, he’ll get to see how certain people have tried to “make America great again.”
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