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Borat with beach babes
Sinti and Roma groups aren't thrilled by Borat's anticsImage: AP/FOX

Sinti, Roma Battle Borat

Jefferson Chase
October 31, 2006

20th Century Fox in Germany has halted some of its promotion for British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's decidedly un-PC new movie. But Sinti and Roma groups say Borat is racist and are asking German courts to intervene.


German fans of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, better known to many as Ali G, have been eagerly awaiting the Nov. 2 release of his new film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

The "mockumentary" featuring a bigoted, fictional reporter from Kazakhstan travelling around the United States satirizes the often shocking prejudices of ordinary Americans. But the satire has fallen flat with Sinti and Roma in Germany, who say the movie itself is discriminatory.

The European Center for Anti-Ziganism Research or EZAF in Hamburg has filed a series of criminal complaints, arguing that the movie incites violence against Sinti and Roma. Court cases are pending in five German cities against Cohen, the film's German distributor, 20th Century Fox, and a number of television stations and newspapers that ran promotional material for the movie.

In response, 20th Century Fox removed all scenes with references to "gypsies," a term Sinti and Roma consider offensive, from television promotional spots for the film. It also took the movie's German-language website off-line.

20th Century Fox Germany sales director Mychael Berg wrote to the EZAF assuring the organization that the distributor had no intention of insulting Sinti and Roma. But there have been no announcements about plans to change the film before it opens in German cinemas.

"Will it harm the car?"

Borat in London
Borat arrived in London on Wednesday for the film's UK premierImage: AP

The controversy centers on how one interprets the Borat figure, a provincial journalist in a bad moustache and cheap suit, who spouts anti-Semitic, racist and sexist prejudices in comically broken English. For fans, Cohen, who is Jewish, uses his alter ego as a means of revealing and ridiculing the deep-seated biases of his unwitting interview partners.

But detractors worry that Cohen's wildly popular figure also makes prejudice seem cool. Sinti and Roma in Germany have objected in particular to one film scene between Borat and a provincial American car dealer.

Borat: "If I drive through a crowd of gypsies, will it do any harm to the car?"

Car dealer: "It depends on how hard you gonna hit them."

Borat: "Really hard."

For the chairman of the EZAF, Marko D. Knudsen, scenes like this amount to an incitement to violence against Sinti and Roma.

"The satire isn't put into context," Knudsen said. "In contrast to other groups satirized in the film, such as feminists, Sinti and Roma are invisible. They're never given a chance to speak for themselves."

Kazakhstan not amused

Borat at MTV Awards Show
Borat also stirred up trouble at the 2005 MTV Europe Music AwardsImage: dpa

This isn't the first time the Borat figure has gotten Cohen in trouble. Officials for the Kazakh government have repeatedly protested against the caricature, saying it casts their country in a poor light.

In early October, the Kazakh ambassador to the UK wrote a long article for the Guardian newspaper accusing Cohen of slandering the former Soviet Republic.

The overwhelming majority of Internet respondents disagreed, saying the satiric intent of Cohen's parody was obvious. Still, 20th Century Fox in America has decided to restrict the release of the Borat movie in the US to 800 cinemas -- instead of the 2000 originally planned.

There is no word on when the courts involved in the German cases may reach their decisions. But if Borat opens as planned on Thursday in Germany, there'll be lots of laughter among fans -- and lots of aggravation among groups that feel they're being exploited as easy targets.

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