“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” Shines Light on the Dark Underbelly of American Society

Movie Still Provided by Amazon Studios

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” was released on Oct. 23 to Amazon Prime.

Brendan Ulmer

Warning: Contains Spoilers

The United States of America is indisputably one of the most developed nations on the planet. Our economy is sophisticated and massive, our infrastructure is relatively modern and some of the most prolific innovators in the history of the world came from this very nation. This comparative material surplus we have over other nations has caused some Americans to have a pretty bold superiority complex over nations that lack the resources we have.

To find examples of Americans exercising this superiority complex, you don’t have to look any further than our own leaders. Whether it be Reagan’s phone call with Richard Nixon where he referred to African diplomats at the United Nations conference as “Monkeys” who are “uncomfortable wearing shoes,” or more recently in 2018 when President Trump referred to African nations and Haiti as “sh***ole countries”, some Americans just love to punch down at the “have-nots”. 

We see ourselves as above the behaviors that come from a primal place of tribalism, and brag and stroke the ego of our own society, hailing it as a good example of the progress other countries should be shooting for, both economically and socially. We rightfully berate countries like Saudi Arabia for killing journalists and treating women as objects to be possessed, for we have long advanced past that lowly stage, right?

To first understand the lessons one can learn from the new “Borat” movie, one must understand the style of Sacha Baron Cohen projects. The “Borat” franchise is about a Kazakhstani journalist who loves his country and sees America as this almost Emerald City-esque wonderland. However, he has no grasp of American etiquette, which is where you find most of the conflict, as well as the humor. 

“Borat” is like most other movies in that it has a storyline: an exposition, a rising action, a climax, a falling action, and a conclusion. But unlike most other movies, it is filmed under false pretenses. Those who are in the movie have no idea what they are actually taking part in. This allows us as the viewer to see these people’s natural reactions to Borat’s contextually inappropriate behavior.

Kazakhstan, the country from which the character of Borat originates, is portrayed in the movie as one of the most regressive cultures in the world, one with rampant antisemitism and one where women are treated like horses. For full disclosure, this isn’t perfectly reflective of actual Kazakhstani culture, a fact that Sacha Baron Cohen came under fire for after the first “Borat” was released in  2006.

However, Cohen defended this misleading by revealing that he was more using the idea of a character who could be deeply and thoughtlessly prejudiced due to his upbringing as a tool to expose how people revealed their own prejudices once they felt it was safe to do so. It worked like a charm. In his first film, he was able to get an entire honkey-tonk bar to sing along with him in a rendition of a song he told them was from his home country called “Throw the Jew Down the Well,” in quite the shocking display.

The first “Borat” movie focused a lot on these tropes, exposing how the antisemitism that we’re practically taught went away with the Nazi’s is still huge in places not far from the U.S. This was a deeply personal project for Cohen who grew up Jewish himself and learned young that antisemitism was very much not dead.

The new “Borat” movie focuses on something entirely different–the way society treats women, and what is expected of them.

In the exposition for the film, Borat is released from a labor camp and finds out that he has a 15-year-old daughter. A fact that at first he doesn’t think much of. She is, after all, kept in a pen outside and classified by him as livestock.

As the plot goes on, Borat is selected by the Premier of Kazakhstan to be the one who takes over the country’s most prized possession (Johnny the Monkey) and present him to the Trump administration as a gift so that the Premier of Kazakhstan can make the list of Trump’s favorite strongman leaders like Vladimir Putin, Jair Bolsonaro and Rodrigo Duterte.

However, as Borat starts his journey to the United States with Johnny the Monkey, he is dismayed to find out his daughter had snuck into the crate and ate Johnny. After doing some quick thinking, he decides that now he must offer his daughter to Mike Pence so that he doesn’t let his country and his Premier down.

What ensues after this is quite horrific, but wildly funny. His daughter, who was raised with the disposition and traits of a wild animal now receives a makeover so that she can now become suitable for American men. She sat down to interview a real sugar baby who gave her some tips as to how to attract a powerful American man. She point-blank tells our protagonist (Tutar) that if she wants to get a strong, rich man she must become, and I quote, “weak and agreeable.” She advises her to never have any opinion and to follow her husband’s lead entirely. Now, if that’s your jam, then cool, but it is the first example of many in this movie of Tutar being directly encouraged in this movie to drop her individuality and submit to the persona she would need to land the kind of man her father wants.

One of the scenes in the movie that stood out as particularly horrifying to me started with Borat feeding his daughter a cupcake that was topped with a toy baby. She eats it with such haste that she ends up swallowing the toy baby and declares that she needs to go to the hospital. In an act of confusion, he accidentally takes her to a Pro-Life pregnancy clinic. In this clinic, you get the same shtick you’d expect, a deeply religious man telling them they should keep the baby, because he doesn’t understand that when they say “baby” they’re referring to a toy. Now that doesn’t disturb me, but what happened next absolutely did. Borat said, “Well, I feel responsible because I’m the one who put the baby inside of her.” After he had already established with the Christian man that they were father and daughter, what the Christian man said next was, “That doesn’t matter, that was in the past.” I was flabbergasted. He was so focused on protecting the unborn he believed to be inside of the girl, that he didn’t bother to do anything to try to save the girl he believed to be getting sexually coerced and used by her own father. It was honestly heartbreaking and opened my eyes to the extent that women and their safety are seen as an afterthought to far too many people.

There is one particularly grotesque scene where Borat takes Tutar to a Southern Debutante ball after her makeover. His daughter is fawned over by all the other attendants and at one point, Borat leans over to one of the fathers attending this ball and asks, “how much do you think I could get for her?” To which this man replies unscripted, “about $500,000.” 

Just completely, jaw-droppingly awful. However, once you learn the history of the Debutante ball, it’s not exactly surprising. Well-to-do fathers would take their daughters to these high society events at a fancy plantation (which was being worked via slave labor) and parade them around like show horses looking to find her a wealthy suitor. While this tradition has evolved so that it’s more like young Southern men and women with trust funds mingling with each other, it inexplicably still hasn’t died. It’s said to be continued in the name of, “protecting heritage,” but sometimes I wonder how much of their heritage involves a deep dehumanization of marginalized communities. It’s a deeply objectifying procedure that was done under the guise of elegant pageantry. I will not spoil how this scene ends, but I will say this, what Tutar does is nauseatingly gross, but it’s honest, and it’s so satisfying to watch it tear the empty pageantry to shreds.

I haven’t stopped thinking about this movie since I watched it for the first time. It’s a masterful display of how disingenuous it is for someone in our society to believe that the U.S. has a superior morality and look down on places we consider to be less evolved, because we have the exact same problems with dehumanization and objectification in our own country that is often so much more sophisticated. The only difference is we cloak it under a thick blanket of disingenuous etiquette.