Overlooked among the nominees at the 84th annual Oscars last weekend was a rather riveting drama called The Devil’s Double, starring Dominic Cooper in a brutal tale based on the true story of a man forced to serve as the body double for Saddam Hussein’s monstrous son Uday. It stood out among the normally politically correct entertainment industry fare as unique in its condemnation of the sadistic Arab dictator and his even more perverse son. But Dominic Cooper isn’t exactly a household name and the film didn’t exactly set the box office on fire.
Along comes Jewish comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, however, who is much more well-known thanks to his publicity antics and his 2006 prankster hit Borat, which raked in upwards of $260 million worldwide. Cohen has co-written and starred in the upcoming comedy The Dictator, Paramount’s “heroic story of a Middle Eastern dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy never comes to the country he so lovingly oppressed.”
Cohen has clearly modeled The Dictator on a satirical amalgam of such evil icons as Saddam and recently deposed Libyan lunatic Muammar Qadhafi, right down to the latter’s female bodyguards. Not since the outrageous comedy Team America: World Police by the fearless South Park satirists has a film promised to boldly go where no one else in Hollywood dares – the usually taboo criticism of America’s totalitarian enemies.
Not a subject for laughter, you say? Fair enough, but comedy can have an impact that drama cannot. Writers through the ages have successfully employed satire and farce to empower their audiences to confront ugly realities of power, politics, and war. With drama, the entertainment industry has had mixed success at best coming to grips with the threat of, for example, Islamic terrorism; Hollywood tends to infuse such movies with predictable anti-Americanism, heavy-handed leftist preaching, and moral equivalence that drive away audiences in droves. But comedy, handled correctly, can open up an accessible perspective – and a broader audience – on normally grim contemporary topics.
Last week the iconoclastic Cohen ran afoul of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which pulled his tickets to the Academy Awards show because he intended to walk the red carpet as the title character Shabazz Aladeen from The Dictator. Purists felt, oddly, that the Oscars is no place for blatant self-promotion which might demean Hollywood’s most pompous – er, prestigious event: “The red carpet is not about stunting,” an Academy spokesperson maintained.
In response to the ban, Cohen released this hilarious video response, delivered in character as the Dictator. In it, His Excellency Admiral General Aladeen greets “the Great Satan of America” and expresses his outrage at having been banned from the Oscars by “the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Zionists.” Although he “applauds the Academy for taking away my free speech,” he threatens “unimaginable consequences” if he doesn’t get his invitation back. He is also upset that films from his country of are not represented among the nominees:
Where are the nominations for such classic films as When Harry Kidnapped Sally, You’ve Got Mail-Bomb, and Planet of the Rapes?
After complaining that his Sunday calendar “is now as empty as a North Korean grocery store,” His Excellency closes the video response by wishing, “Death to the West! Death to America! And good luck [Oscars host] Billy Crystals [sic] – you’re fantastic!”
In the end, the negative publicity incurred by the ban pressured the Academy to back down and allow “The Dictator” to walk the red carpet, which Cohen did in full dictator regalia, flanked by two sexy bodyguards a là Gadhafi. The Dictator greeted interviewer Ryan Seacrest with “Death to the West!” In response to Seacrest’s obligatory fashion question – “Who are you wearing?” – he replied, “John Galliano,” an insider reference to the fashion designer whose drunken, anti-Semitic rant (“I love Hitler!”) was caught on video a year ago.
Cohen also claimed to be carrying an urn containing the ashes of “close friend and doubles tennis partner Kim Jong-Il,” which he proceeded to spill all over a displeased Seacrest and the carpet, prompting an instant response from Academy security (some perhaps rightly suspect that the entire fiasco was collusion between Cohen and the Academy to bring attention to both parties).
The website for The Dictator is set up as a faux tribute to dictator Aladeen and his fictional country of Wadiyah. It features actual web links to North Korea, Iran, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and Robert Mugabe, among others. The calendar notes such events as Holocaust Remembrance Day (“At this somber occasion, Aladeen remembers all those who were so tragically released from Auschwitz”), UN inspections (“MAKE SURE YOU HAVE MEMORIZED YOUR LINES AND STICK TO THE SCRIPT OR ELSE”), and the anniversary of the death of the Dictator’s father (“Everyone will spontaneously start weeping for 16 hours starting at 7:00 AM”).
The site’s tourism link features such attractions as the Wadiyah Museum of Tolerance (“Women, Jews, and disabled not allowed”) and the National Parliament Building (“The perfect state of our nation has rendered political debate superfluous. Which means you can visit this cavernous empty chamber on any day. What so-called Western democracy can say that?”). The site also contains brief histories of Wadiyah and of Aladeen himself (“Aladeen is born. He delivers himself, cuts his own umbilical cord, and immediately delivers a most-inspiring speech criticizing the treachery of the Western nations”).
While comedian Will Ferrell ridicules former President George W. Bush, and Tina Fey mocks Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin, Sacha Baron Cohen takes humiliating potshots at America’s Jew-hating totalitarian enemies. Hate him or love him, whatever you think about Cohen, his sense of humor, or his in-your-face style, he is doing what no other established star in Hollywood seems both capable of and willing to do.
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