Amid violence, greed and negligence, old Baghdad is disappearing.
The release of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat sequel has yet again elicited mixed reactions in Kazakh society.
The mockumentary comedy film, directed by Jason Woliner and entitled Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, was released on Friday on Amazon Prime.
The fictional titular character is a Kazakh journalist and television personality Borat Sagdiyev, played by Baron Cohen, and characterised by his exaggerated racist, antisemitic and misogynist views, which are portrayed in the film as being typical in Kazakhstan.
While the movie is a satire on American ignorance and prejudice, rather than an attempt to mock Kazakhs, not everyone in Kazakhstan has appreciated the joke.
Prior to the movie’s release, more than 100,000 people signed an online petition to cancel the film.
Small groups of protesters also gathered in front of the US consulate in the Kazakh city of Almaty on the day of the premiere.
The social media reaction was particularly heated. The hashtag #cancelborat appeared on Twitter and Instagram, with thousands of Kazakhs outraged by the alleged racism of the movie and accusing Baron Cohen of insulting the nation.
— Gia Noortas (@GiaNoortas) October 24, 2020
To make things worse, before the premiere the film’s marketing team set up fake Instagram and Twitter accounts impersonating the Kazakh government. Initially, most tweets focused on the weather and the activities of the country’s ministers.
“Little known fact: Kazakhs were first in the world to domesticate horses. Another great moment in the history of our great nation! #technology #worldculture,” said a tweet from September 30.
— Republic of Kazakhstan 🇰🇿 (@KazakhstanGovt) September 29, 2020
That same day, the spoof account tweeted to congratulate Donald Trump – the “great friend of the Kazakh people” – for winning the presidential debate before it even took place.
“Apologies. We are unable to currently follow debate because of poor Wi-Fi signal despite recent government purchase of broadband account. Please inform us of developments! #debates2020,” said a subsequent tweet.
“GREAT NEWS! We are using Wi-Fi of neighbouring a**holes Uzbekistan! Watching debate again!,” the account tweeted minutes later.
While the press office of the Kazakh prime minister felt obliged to deny being the author of the account, this time the authorities restrained from making official comments about the movie.
‘Borat the last thing to worry about’
The first Borat movie, titled Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which was released in 2006, initially elicited criticism from government officials.
But in 2012, Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov said he was “grateful to Borat for helping attract tourists to Kazakhstan”.
He also said following the film’s release, the number of visas issued by the country grew tenfold.
Kazakh society, however, remains divided.
“Borat has once again split the Kazakhstanis into two camps. Some people are deeply outraged and say that the film is a lie because it was shot in Romania, not Kazakhstan. Our country is only 30 years old and state symbols are still sacralised,” Tatiana Fominova, a Kazakh marketing specialist, told Al Jazeera.
“The other half understands that the film is primarily about the United States and Sacha Baron Cohen has picked Kazakhstan almost randomly,” she said.
Fominova noted that, because of Borat, foreigners often laugh at Kazakhstan as they believe the movie reflects reality.
She said she had come across this reaction herself during a trip to the US, which she said was unpleasant, but added she would not hold it against the filmmakers.
“The level of absurdity and corruption in our country is so high that Borat is the last thing to worry about,” Fominova said.
“Kazakhstan grabs world media attention only in connection to consecutive political and social scandals. Borat cannot spoil this image even more.”