Review: ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ shines light on misogyny in Trump-era America

by Charlie Palsho | 11/2/20 2:10am

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by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

The much-anticipated “Borat” sequel, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” is as politically timely as it is funny. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen and directed by Jason Woliner, the film, released Oct. 23, outdoes its predecessor with its bold, high stakes pranks and rich political satire. At its core, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” makes a powerful critique of how misogyny is frequently overlooked in President Donald Trump’s America.

Fourteen years after the first “Borat” film, Borat Sagdiyev, Kazakhstan’s most infamous gonzo journalist, returns to the U.S. His mission is to travel to Trump’s America and bestow a gift — Borat’s 15-year-old daughter Tutar, played by Maria Bakalova — on Vice President Mike Pence in an effort to restore Kazakhstan to its former glory. 

Tutar bears the brunt of the film’s satire as Borat continually demeans her to the status of an animal — even buying her a cage to live in — and complies as others do the same. In both the original movie and the sequel, it is important to note that none of the guests are actually acting; they believe Borat and Tutar are real people, and they respond accordingly. 

This is incredibly troubling when it comes to Tutar’s treatment. As Baron Cohen told The New York Times last month, “In 2005, you needed a character like Borat who was misogynist, racist, anti-Semitic to get people to reveal their inner prejudices,” he said. “Now those inner prejudices are overt.” The fooled Americans in the sequel share culpability with Borat on screen; Borat’s misogyny feels miniscule in comparison to the clueless people who go along with it, treating Tutar inappropriately. 

Throughout the film, people degrade Tutar particularly for her physical appearance. Borat puts his daughter through a complete physical makeover, including hair extensions, waxing and even the threat of plastic surgery so that she will be accepted as beautiful, exposing the unrealistic beauty standards held in America. With her makeover, Tutar’s treatment switches from that of an animal to that of a doll. 

At a debutante ball in Georgia, Borat asks another father how much he thinks Tutar is worth, to which he receives a straight-faced “$500” in response. Although other girls overhear this statement and are disgusted, it is clear that comments like these are not completely out of the ordinary, at least within this segment of Southern society. 

Tutar grits her teeth through degrading scene after scene that exposes the unsettling tolerance for blatant misogyny that has become a steady and more overt part of the Trumpian American’s diet. Normal to some viewers and shocking to others, the film sheds light on the true yet often disregarded treatment of women in America today. 

Throughout the film, Tutar is left with three different women from whom she gains knowledge about her role in the world. The first, a sugar baby, teaches her to be passive and submissive. The second, a debutante coach, teaches her how to properly be on the arm of a man as she enters into society and prepares to be given up for marriage. The third — often deemed the moral compass and hero of the movie — Jeanise Jones, teaches Tutar about self-love and the importance of respect. 

After spending a day with Jones, Tutar is inspired by the independent woman in front of her. She decides to listen to Jones’ words that “she is enough” and does not undergo plastic surgery as she had planned with Borat. She even runs away and begins working for a humanitarian agency, illuminating what strong women can do for themselves. The film contrasts these scenes of empowerment with the constant misogyny Tutar suffers from at the hands of men. This only serves to compound the horrific nature of misogyny in America today.

Unfortunately, Tutar could not stay away from Borat for long; as he faces the possibility of murder, he reaches to Tutar for help. Out of love for her father, she agrees to the film’s most dangerous stunt — a staged interview with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Thanks to her physical makeover transforming her into “pretty much every single woman on Fox News: a uniform vision of girlishly long bottle-blond hair,” Tutar is able to gain access to the Conservative Political Action Conference. During the interview, the film shows Giuliani putting his hand down his pants and moving it around.

Cohen takes what seems to be a common enough stereotype, a creepy, rich, old man preying on a young woman, and puts it up on the big screen for the audience to judge. It’s jarring to see someone of Giuliani’s stature act in such a way with a woman in a “professional” environment, and it drives home the prevalence of misogyny in America today.

In response to the film’s release, Giuliani took to his radio program on WABC to defend himself, claiming that he “was tucking in [his] shirt after taking off the recording equipment.” Although Giuliani had no reason to believe Tutar was 15 years old, and the footage is lightly edited, this scene appropriately raised many questions and stirred lots of controversy. In the context of the film, this scene exemplifies an instance of misogyny trying to be buried by a perpetrator.

It’s no accident that this sequel was intentionally released just before Election Day: “[W]e wanted it to be a reminder to women of who they’re voting for — or who they’re not voting for. If you’re a woman and you don’t vote against [Trump], then know what you’re doing for your gender,” Baron Cohen said. This call to action to women is a focal point of the film’s satire, and it is brightly embodied in Tutar, who we see growing increasingly empowered as the film progresses. She indeed delivers a performance that steals the spotlight from Borat and has even attracted well-deserved Oscar buzz. 

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” has pressing political significance for every single American, and as Cohen mentioned, it is a message that is aimed at women voters. Full of laughs and saturated with thoughtful Trumpian satire, the Borat sequel is a much-watch before Election Day. Take it all in, and then, as the last slide of the film commands, “NOW VOTE.”

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