In the wake of the movie “Borat,” two cases are being brought against four companies involved in its making for causing humiliation and distress to its alleged victims. One lawsuit is from a group of frat boys who drunkenly embarrassed themselves by spewing up sexist rubbish before international audiences. They blame being drunk—caused, they say, exclusively by the production team buying them rounds—and seem to think that signing contracts and behaving stupidly in public while inebriated entitles them to monetary compensation.
The other case, however, deserves to be taken far more seriously. Not only is it legally viable, but, if true, undermines the whole movie’s premise, which is to “out” the despicable and ridiculous.
It involves the denizens of the small Romanian village, Glod—or “mud” in English—which was used as Borat’s hometown. They are planning to sue filmmakers for misrepresenting both them and the deal they were offered—that is, to do what they were told and get filmed doing it. If their claims are true—they have yet to be denied—at no point during the filming process was any effort made to overcome the language barrier and explain what was going on or why.
The list of accusations runs long. The production team ordered a couple to bring farm animals into their house, covering it with manure; they tied a dildo—unidentifiable to the villagers—to the arm stump of an old man; and they portrayed the community as urine-drinking savages. Pay ranged from five to 38 dollars a day; they took the money because they were poor and had no idea how their actions would be used.
What makes this all the more reprehensible is that, even had the true nature of the job been fully explained, the film crew might well have found willing participants, albeit probably for higher pay. Instead, it appears that the filmmakers elected to save a few hundred dollars. And why not? The village, being ostracized from Romanian society at large because it is inhabited by Roma people, was especially easy to exploit.
And what does the Romanian government have to say of the incident? According to the Financial Times, the local vice-mayor’s view was: “They got paid so I am sure they are happy. These gypsies will even kill their own father for money.”
Both of these alleged incidents involve a production team skillfully executing a strategy to manipulate individuals into supposedly unlikely actions. Liquoring up some frat boys to distort their judgment before offering a contract is certainly unscrupulous. But in the end, these boys were offered a choice, albeit a drunken one, and hanged themselves by their own words. In the case of Glod, the villagers were not given a choice, which not only makes the filmmakers legally liable, but goes against the entire movie’s premise.
The television show “Borat,” part of “Da Ali G Show,” in which comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s character first appeared, thrives on idiocy and prejudice. At its best, the show is a hilarious and biting social commentary on society’s bigotry and absurdities. Its foolish victims feel perfectly comfortable revealing their prejudices to some dumb and irrelevant foreigner, or else are too polite to disagree with him. For the most part, they have only themselves to blame for their humiliation.
But the Glod incident undermines all of that. Cohen and his crew seem to have behaved with all of the arrogant ignorance of the people they are meant to satirize. They arrived with a fully fledged Hollywood entourage, made little effort to explain their terms, took what they wanted, and went on their merry way.
Juliet S. Samuel ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House.