First, think of all the films in the world. All the films that you’ve seen, all the films that you haven’t, all the films you want to see, all the films you tell people you’ve seen but you haven’t but you will…probably. Think of American films, African films, Canadian films, Iranian films, Pakistani films, British films, Egyptian films, Japanese films – all the films that come out every year that you will never see – because you won’t hear of them, because you don’t have time, because you don’t understand the language.
Doesn’t that depress you? All those great films – telling stories of love, of freedom, of friendships, of laughter, of struggle, of justice – great films that you will never experience.
And then, think of Sacha Baron Cohen – do you really want to spend even two hours on his movie?
Some people say that they watch his movies for the comedy, not the racism and exaggerated stereotypes, obviously. And to that, I say, “Really? The comedy?” His ‘comedy’ is not even funny, except in the way that someone falling down is funny to a toddler. It would be new and innovative if he was taking the caricatures and doing something different than Borat and Bruno, but “The Dictator is pretty much like a lot of other comedies with poop jokes and penis gags and ‘surprise’ celebrity cameos,” says Deadspin. The New York Times called the movie “lazy” and the jokes “half-baked and rehashed.” Is this what we consider ‘funny,’ America?
What bothers me, and others, the most about Cohen is the fact that his racism, which he has cleverly produced during/directly after an Arab Spring that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, is detrimental to cultural relations between the U.S. and Arab countries. We can and should make fun of cultural differences (indeed, sometimes they are the funniest types of jokes), but why should we make fun of each other in the process? As Dean Obeidallah, political comedian, requested, “If you are going to mock and ridicule us for profit, can you at least cast Arabs and Indians to play us? And while we’re at it, why not include us in the creative process as co-writers and directors?”
I wrote about some progress that was made in 2010 regarding Arab and Muslim characters being cast as regular people instead of just terrorists and belly dancers, but any little progress we make will be put back significantly if we keep supporting comedy like Cohen’s, that relies on people laughing at a group of people rather than with them. On the heels of Arab uprisings and countless deaths, Cohen’s kind of comedy does nothing to help the already tense situation and it does much to hurt.
The Dictator will be released today. A simple request, friends and readers: don’t support Cohen’s career by watching it. Don’t let your friends watch it. Aspire to a more sophisticated comedy. And, if you do watch it, and you feel queasy laughing at some of the worst stereotypes of Arabs that we should be fighting against, know that your conscience wants to throw up – and for good reason.
Also, just an aside, there is Punjabi music in The Dictator’s trailer. What?