A Comedian Misses The Punchline

In case you have been living under a rock for the past decade, let me tell you that Sacha Baron Cohen’s humour is vulgar, crude, obscene and grotesque. That is exactly why he is so praised.

In his new film, he plays Admiral General Aladeen, Dictator of Wadiya, A spoof of an Arab dictator, part Gaddafi, part Hussein, and with a sprinkling of Al-Saud.

But alas, he has touched yet another nerve, this time of Dean Obeidallah of CNN:

Sacha Cohen’s movie a minstrel show (CNN) 

Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie, “The Dictator,” is a modern-day minstrel show judging from the trailer and Cohen’s comments promoting the film while dressed as the film’s star, “Gen. Shabazz Aladeen,” the leader of a fictitious Arab country.

Cohen, who is not of Arab heritage, plays this Arab character while sporting a long fake beard and speaking in a strong Arabic accent, which would be fine, except the character is showcasing the worst stereotypes of Arabs.

For example, at a news conference in New York City this week promoting his film, Cohen exclaimed: “Welcome devils of the Zionist media and death to the West.” He then joked about liking TV shows that showed Arab terrorists killing Americans and admiring fashion designer John Galliano for hating the Jews.

To me, this is essentially the same as white performers in blackface portraying black people in buffoonish negative stereotypes for the enjoyment of white America

OMG! an actor playing a character! who would’ve guessed that that is what actors do. But wait, there’s a punch:

But for some reason, the entertainment industry appears to truly enjoy ridiculing “brown” people, Arabs and Indians, and has no qualms about casting people not of our heritage to portray us. Indeed, just last week Popchips snack company found itself embroiled in a controversy because an ad showed Ashton Kutcher playing an Indian character in brownface, similar to what Cohen is doing in “The Dictator.”

So the problem is that Baron Cohen is not an Arab. He’s not of Arab heritage, he’s not Muslim, he’s not brown. You see, in order to play an Arab, you have to be stereotypically brown, while stereotyping Arabs in movies.

This is Dean Obeidallah. He’s “brown.”


Or not.

And let’s be honest, these types of buffoonish “brownface” stereotypes would not be permitted if it were any other minority group.  What would the reaction be if a white actor in blackface mocked African-American culture? Or if an actor of Arab heritage pitched a movie about the leader of a fictitious Jewish state in which he would portray the Jewish leader and showcase the worst stereotypes of Jews? Is there any chance that film would get the green light from a Hollywood studio?

In trying to sound smart and to the point, this self described political comedian misses the punch. Cohen takes a jab at Arab dictators, not Arabs. He also makes fun of North Korea, Iran, Cuba and basically every other paradigm of human rights. By equating the making fun of despicable tyrants, with the stereotyping of Jews (and with an Arab actor, as it’s somehow supposed to hurt us), Obeidallah is yet another person who fails to grasp Baron Cohen’s characters, be they Kazakh, British, gay Austrians or Arab.

And a final note, it seems that the writer forgot, or doesn’t have a clue, about the couple of million of Jews of Arab heritage, some of whom Baron Cohen as definitely met, because Malawach is one of his favourite catch-phrases.

Aussie Dave adds: Someone’s noticed this post.



Judge Dan

Dan Smith has been exposing anti-Israel fallacies since the first time he opened the world wide web on Netscape Navigator, sometime in the late 90's. His lack of formal journalistic, political and sociological education means he is still capable of objective, unbiased views and opinions. A judge of media, pundits and media pundits.

Help Keep This Important Work Going