Borat in the Age of McDonald Trump: A Truth Stranger Than Fiction
I grew up in a household where censorship just wasn’t a thing. The evening movie and television philosophy was that I could watch whatever I wanted, so long as I did my research on it beforehand and promised not to use any swears I might learn in front of my grandmother. It was great.
By the age of ten, I’d seen all the films that parents usually don’t let their elementary school-aged children watch out of fear it will corrupt them, but which that exact demographic finds funniest. One of my favorites, of course, was Borat (2006). As a young American growing up abroad, this controversial, abrasive film was my first exposure to satire, the issues of the Bush era, and “why the US might not be popular.” It’s also just plain funny. So when a sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, was announced, I was about as keen to watch it as Borat was to get his hands on that Baywatch magazine.
The original Borat mockumentary has the eponymous TV journalist (Sacha Baron Cohen) travel across America with his producer, Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian)--who is rather sorely missing from the sequel-- ultimately culminating in the attempted kidnapping and forced marriage of Pamela Anderson. Subsequent Moviefilm dials the feminism up to eleven. Fourteen years after the events of the first, Borat must return to “good old US of A” to bring a bribe to Donald Trump and restore Kazakhstan’s international reputation. Since getting to Trump might prove difficult, as Borat dropped a deuce in front of Trump Tower in the first film, he decides to offer his fifteen-year-old daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), to Mike Pence instead, and hijinks ensue. It’s pretty much exactly what you would expect.
The film struggles to get off the ground, devoting a lot of early screentime to exposition and plot points that ultimately don’t matter much in the context of a Borat film — after all, we’re here to make fun of the political and cultural landscape of America, by filming real people who think that they are interacting with a Kazakh journalist. And while it’s relevant to explain that Borat will be wearing different outfits to avoid being recognized from the first film, do we really need to wait ten minutes before we get to see Borat in action again? Surely there must be some deleted footage that could be used instead.
Once it gets going, however, the sequel delivers a string of cringe-inducing scenes that closely rival the original. Borat and Tutar’s father-daughter dance at a Georgia debutante ball features copious amounts of menstrual blood and body hair. Borat and Tutar visit a crisis pregnancy center. Tutar discovers and praises the joys of masturbation at a Hillsborough Republican Women’s Club meeting. I won’t even mention Rudy Giuliani and Tutar in the hotel room.
Wildest of all, right as the pandemic hits, Baron Cohen as Borat spends five days quarantining with a pair of QAnon conspiracy theorists — writing songs, doing home repair, and discussing how Hillary Clinton drinks the blood of children. You can’t make this stuff up. And, I gotta be honest, their camouflage/taxidermy/log cabin aesthetic is pretty enviable. Can you say “cottagecore”?
Sacha Baron Cohen has a remarkable talent: he gets people to reveal who they truly are. By making shocking statements about women, ethnic minorities, and queer people, Borat gives the person he is talking to the opportunity to either agree, thinking they don’t need to be ashamed of their bigotry, or disagree, because they have a moral backbone.
Borat 2 has some real, everyday heroes — heroines, in fact. Tutar’s babysitter, a black woman, talks the young girl out of plastic surgery and tells her she’s beautiful just the way she is. When Borat walks into a synagogue dressed as the ultimate anti-Semitic stereotype, Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans welcomes him, feeds him, gives him a hug; she is so kind-hearted that Baron Cohen, who is Jewish himself, allegedly broke character to tell her it was an act. These moments of kindness, of genuine concern and human decency, offer welcome respite from the exhausting onslaught of alt-right content that the film keeps throwing at its audience. I believe it would be irresponsible not to include them — if Baron Cohen’s aim is to show the America of today, then the film must acknowledge, however briefly, the truly good people out there.
For every moment of kindness, however, it seems as though there are ten examples of hatred, or perhaps worse, tolerance of hatred. Whereas the original Borat depicts the United States as a (very) difficult to love but ultimately sort of decent place, with Borat bringing a lot of its “best” bits home to a backwards, pseudo-Orientalist, actually-filmed-in-Romania “Kazakhstan,” the fractured America of the sequel was nauseating, perhaps even more so because I watched it during the run-up to the 2020 Presidential election. Is this really what America is like now? If so, the joke is getting old.
The original Borat film showed what was, at the time, the most awful America imaginable: George W. Bush’s. Gasp! I’d pay good money to live there now. 2020’s US of A is a truth stranger than fiction, an alternative fact so out-there that even Borat struggles to satirize it. I can understand the reasoning behind the character’s problematic views, but knowing that Baron Cohen had to wear a bulletproof vest while filming isn’t hilarious, it’s concerning. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm would be much funnier if it didn’t make me so sad, and if it had another naked wrestling scene.
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm is available to watch on the only platform that would agree to host it, Amazon Prime.
After graduating with a BA in Russian and Spanish, Eleanor Surbey somehow finagled herself a job in human rights, and she would have taken it too, if it weren't for her booming TikTok career. She is rarely more than two drinks away from single-handedly setting the feminist movement back 40 years, and when not writing semi-humorous articles for clout, she can be found unraveling her knitting projects for the third time, making Excel charts of her friends ordered by astrological sign, and putting the 'unhinged' in 'Hinge'.