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!”