When I first met Aigul Kaparova, the woman whom I would eventually marry, she told me she was from Kazakhstan. And of course there was basically one thing I knew about Kazakhstan: Borat.
I remember asking her how she felt about Borat, because I remembered the reaction to that film in Kazakhstan. She told me the whole controversy didn’t really bother her much and that the country had seemingly accepted that Borat would always be associated with her home. And that was about it.
Until this week. That’s when Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat unexpectedly turned back up in everyone’s world with Borat Second Moviefilm, now streaming on Amazon Prime. To my surprise, Aigul told me two things: She had never seen Borat before, and she was really excited to see this new movie.
When I went to Kazakhstan in 2019 and met Aigul’s friends, they all asked me the same thing. What do Americans know about Kazakhstan? Do they know anything about it? I would sheepishly answer: Yes, they know one thing. I’d cringe inside waiting for the response. But each time I was met with a polite smile and some version of, “Oh, of course!”
It would be pointed out to me that the Kazakh parts of the movie were filmed in Romania and not Kazakhstan. There’s BBC footage of the duped Romanians whose village served as a stand-in for Kazakhstan reacting to the experience with a mix of disappointment, anger and suspicion. It’s worth watching.
On every episode of my podcast, The Industry, I talk about Hollywood biggest disasters, weirdest decisions, and occasional miracles. This one’s a little different — unless you consider Cohen’s antics failing to offend a Kazakh woman to be a miracle.
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The new film has gained widespread attention because of Cohen and his team’s ability to fool many people in spite of Borat’s worldwide fame and recognizability. As in the first Borat, he impersonates a clueless journalist from a backward, heavily fictionalized version of Kazakhstan that is racist, sexist, and anti-semitic. His apparent ignorance makes some Americans feel at ease enough to reveal their own prejudices — or, in some cases, to try to help him. He’s joined this time around by his daughter Tutar, played by Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova.