Possibly the most offensive and racist film since Birth of a Nation, but the white American critics aren't calling it so. A sampling of professional critics shows an omission of this aspect, opting instead to focus on the "gross out" elements, which are safely condemned by the (faux) intelligentsia. Most just call it vaguely "offensive," and leave it at that. Ignoring blatant brown-face racism when it's slapping you in the face seems disingenuous, to say the least. As is typical today, racism against Arabs isn't considered racism in contemporary American groupthink.
Cohen's latest assault on the Arab race attracted my attention as the most obvious political film of recent months. Given his oddball nature and complex, sometimes conflicting views, I opted to hand over my six bucks for a matinee ticket this afternoon. I came out of the experience having laughed all of once. The creative use of a pair of dolphins was about it. Mostly I was disgusted at the crass use of war propaganda as a plot device.
The story revolves around US and Israeli claims against Iran and its nuclear program. The setting is changed to a fictional dictatorship in N. Africa, but the arguments are identical. The targeted nation is run by a "mad dog" who cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons, according to Western leaders. Footage includes none other than Barack Obama issuing threats to that effect. The backdrop is real and no joke. The war threats are taken from real life, real violations of international law (threatening force in international relations, a violation of the UN Charter, Article 2). The nuclear issue in both the media and in the film is a one-sided Western dominated narrative. The US nuclear arsenal and the Israeli nuclear arsenal are not mentioned, nor is their purpose: deterrence. Cohen's Dictator serves as a proxy for the Iranian president, or the Mullahs, whom are the unstated targets of the satire. He, like them, is a "mad dog" lunatic whose purpose in life is to attack Israel, without any reason or provocation of course -- the Palestinian question appears nowhere. This is the glue smeared all over this propaganda film. The rest is formula comedy.
The clearly racist nature of the characters was hard to stomach, portrayed by an unabashed Zionist with no hope for balance or nuance. All of this was to be expected going in, but I had to see it for myself knowing millions of my countrymen would arrive shortly after. In America, Zionist war propaganda is not challenged, not by critics, not by news anchors and certainly not in the bought and paid for Congress.
The film seems to be riding something just short of a love-fest in the mainstream media, hovering above 60% by critics and audiences alike. Orwell's "two minutes of hate" comes to mind. The Dictator is disposable humor at the expense of Arab stereotypes and will do nothing to further race relations or peace in the world. The character is so ludicrous that it's hard to consider the piece as anything more than fantasy, but that's clearly not the intent when including current war propaganda front and center.
Cohen's one almost-redeeming moment calls out US domestic policies as being those of a dictatorship. In a lengthy list of dictatorial recommendations from the Dictator we hear what has already transpired since 9/11. This was the sort of complexity and irreverent independence I was pining for at the time of ticket purchase, but it certainly didn't make up for such a hate-fest clearly aimed at a particular race of people. The Dictator is the sort of vile propaganda that inspired me to start the Political Film Blog in the first place, and so an unreserved two thumbs down.