The last time Baron Cohen parodied the third world (while at the same time parodying the West and everything and everybody else) was with his 2006 mockumentary Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The title character, Borat Sagdiyev, was an amalgam of numerous stereotypes of Slavic, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and third-world men in general (he is the dark side of Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd’s Czechoslovakian “wild and crazy guys” from Saturday Night Live), though the script is careful to mention he is non-Muslim, following an (invented) indigenous Kazakh religious system. (Likewise, his new character Aladeen is “not an Arab” and is also, fairly apparently, not a “black” sub-Saharan African.)
Borat Sagdiyev in his native Kazakh village (actually, Romania)
A timeline of Kazakh history, from the coffee-table book published to accompany the film Borat
The Kazakh government threatened law suits against Baron Cohen and his producers, and Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, even very somberly took the matter up with the United States’ president, George W. Bush, during a state visit. However, a Kazakh journalist who got around his country’s ban on the movie by screening it at a film festival in Vienna, declared, “Cultural Learnings is certainly not anti-Kazakh, anti-Romanian, or anti-Semitic. It is a cruelly anti-American movie. It is amazingly funny and sad at the same time. I think this is the best film of the year.” (Baron Cohen, incidentally, is permitted over-the-top anti-Semitic jokes; he is himself an Englishman of Jewish extraction, who wrote his Cambridge thesis on the role of Jewish Americans in the 1960s civil-rights movement.)
A scene from Borat showing Kazakhstan’s supposed annual “running of the Jews” ceremony
Kazakh markswoman Maria Dmitrienko hears the Borat version of her country’s national anthem
Now, it is one thing to piss off the Republic of Kazakhstan, as Baron Cohen did with Borat. A few Kazakhs even managed to figure out that Baron Cohen has no grudge against Kazakhstan per se; he chose it because Kazakhstan is so little known in the West, because it sounds remote and obscure and has a funny name. It would be quite another thing to piss off an actual living dictator. Aladeen, in his unhinged flamboyance, resembles no one more than Libya’s Moammar al-Qaddafi. The Dictator was conceived and began shooting well before Qaddafi’s downfall and execution in October 2011, but presumably by that point Libya’s dictator was already clearly on his way out (a fate he might have avoided if he had done what Baron Cohen’s Aladeen does: in order to avert a possible future Arab Spring uprising, he has all of the spring months removed from the national calendar). (See my blog article on conflict in post-Qaddafi Libya.)
The original Aladeen?
But, still, one doesn’t want any actual dictator deciding that he is the model for Aladeen and taking appropriate Lockerbie-esque or Salman-Rushdie-fatwa-esque action in retaliation. So Baron Cohen has shifted his fictional country into a zone where hardly any government functions at all, Somalia. Perhaps coincidentally, Azawad, which resembles Wadiya somewhat in name (see my recent blog article discussing the name Azawad), was founded during The Dictator’s post-production, though the name Wadiya also somewhat resembles Awdal, a self-governing pseudo-state in extreme northwestern Somalia (i.e. Somaliland). (See my recent blog article on the fragmentation of Somalia.)
The actual mess that is “Somalia” today (at least as of a few months ago; it skips a few recently created statelets).
Neither Sacha Baron Cohen nor Evelyn Waugh could have made this up.
The frontispiece and title page for the first edition of Black Mischief, including “Azania”
Map showing location of Wakanda, home of the superhero the Black Panther.
Just out of shot, not far from Waugh’s Azania, is the island nation of Genosha, where mutants are kept as slaves.
(Boy, they were asking for it when they tried to enslave Wolverine, though. I know, right?)
Borat’s family tree. Just because.
The flag of the Republic of Wadiya