Can you believe it, not everyone finds Sacha Baron Cohen hilarious?
Though he would probably consider himself an equal-opportunity offender, the National Network for Arab American Communities is particularly offended by Cohen's latest character, buffoonish despot Admiral General Aladeen from the fictional Republic of Wadiya.
What about this Saddam Hussein-Moammar Gadhafi hybrid doesn't sit right?
"There was plenty of buzz that he made a mess of Seacrest's Burberry tuxedo, but not much of an outcry about the blatant Arab stereotype," NNAAC director Nadia Tonova wrote today in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, referring to the other big moment at the Oscars, when Cohen-as-Aladeen spilled powder (supposedly Kim Jong Il's ashes) all over Ryan Seacrest's tux on the red carpet.
"Arabs are among the few cultures that Hollywood still exploits with impunity," Tonova continued. "Routinely, we are profiled as unsavory or sultry characters—generally terrorists, dictators, sheikhs, oil tycoons or Bedouins. But it's not just Hollywood that perpetuates this imagery. These stereotypes are promoted through the media, law enforcement, our courts, legislatures, Congress and our political candidates. They become an ugly message that trickles down to the general public: Arabs and Muslims are untrustworthy; they are un-American; they are...fill the blank."
Cohen's camp and Paramount Pictures have remained silent since word first got out that the method-to-his-madness actor wanted to walk the carpet at the Academy Awards in the guise of his character—not a surprising request coming from the guy who spent months as Brüno and Borat.
Tonova argues that it's stereotypes such as the ones perpetuated by Cohen that lead to racial profiling, violence against Arabs and Arab-Americans in the United States, unfair immigration practices and other political issues.
And, she writes, the damage done is not confined to the Arab community, quoting late Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren: "It should be remembered that practically all aliens have come to this country because they like our land and our institutions better than those from whence they came...We must see to it that no race prejudices develop and that there are no petty persecutions of law-abiding people."
Those are words to remember, she concluded, when thinking about the current state of the U.S. "and, yes, even the damaging lunacy of Sacha Baron Cohen."
Many of the comments on the article, meanwhile, noted that Cohen was really just trying to be funny.
"He was mocking dictators...Any religious fundamentalists have to be looked on with suspicion, that is all religions," wrote Hal Wood.
Added Jeff McConnell, "C'mon, Nadia! Lighten up. I don't always necessarily appreciate Cohen's brand of humor, but he isn't hurting anyone."
But there were also those who agreed with Tonova.
"Yup, I agree, Ali G, Borat both Asian/Middle Eastern, both stereotypes. As far as I'm concerned it's just 'black face' for the 21st century," wrote UKVisitor.
"Supposedly the joke is on us and our 'racist' preconceptions," wrote darquelord. "But without any liberating awareness of our own 'racism or another way of being or seeing'. In other words, he simply reinforces tired old racist cliches and exploits them for his own economic benefit and for some reason THIS is funny."
The Dictator storms theaters May 11!