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Dean Obeidallah: Sacha Cohen’s Movie a Minstrel Show

Danios wrote recently about Ashton Kutcher’s putting on ‘brown face,’ and ridiculing Indians in a Pop Chips commercial. He pointed out that though Kutcher’s ad was pulled we still have Sacha Baron Cohen’s anti-Arab minstrel show proceeding without much protestation or discussion–until now.

Muslim comedian Dean Obeidallah has weighed-in now, and if I didn’t know any better he must have read our article because he raises similar arguments,

To me, this is essentially the same as white performers in blackface portraying black people in buffoonish negative stereotypes for the enjoyment of white America.

But I am not advocating a ban on offensive comments or the telling of culturally insensitive jokes. I certainly am not calling for more PC comedy. I’m not calling for a boycott of anyone nor asking for one more insincere “I’m sorry to all those who were offended by me” from a celebrity.

I’m in no way arguing that Arab culture is off-limits or cannot be mocked. I’m a comedian of Arab heritage and have performed comedy shows not only for Arab-American groups across the United States, but also in the Middle East, from Egypt to Qatar to Saudi Arabia. I find the biggest laughs are elicited when performers hold up a comic mirror to Arab culture.

But for some reason, the entertainment industry appears to truly enjoy ridiculing “brown” people, Arabs and Indians, and has no qualms about casting people not of our heritage to portray us. Indeed, just last week Popchips snack company found itself embroiled in a controversy because an ad showed Ashton Kutcher playing an Indian character in brownface, similar to what Cohen is doing in “The Dictator.”

Sacha Cohen’s movie a minstrel show

by Dean Obeidallah

(CNN) — Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie, “The Dictator,” is a modern-day minstrel show judging from the trailer and Cohen’s comments promoting the film while dressed as the film’s star, “Gen. Shabazz Aladeen,” the leader of a fictitious Arab country.

Cohen, who is not of Arab heritage, plays this Arab character while sporting a long fake beard and speaking in a strong Arabic accent, which would be fine, except the character is showcasing the worst stereotypes of Arabs.

For example, at a news conference in New York City this week promoting his film, Cohen exclaimed: “Welcome devils of the Zionist media and death to the West.” He then joked about liking TV shows that showed Arab terrorists killing Americans and admiring fashion designer John Galliano for hating the Jews.

To me, this is essentially the same as white performers in blackface portraying black people in buffoonish negative stereotypes for the enjoyment of white America.

But I am not advocating a ban on offensive comments or the telling of culturally insensitive jokes. I certainly am not calling for more PC comedy. I’m not calling for a boycott of anyone nor asking for one more insincere “I’m sorry to all those who were offended by me” from a celebrity.

I’m in no way arguing that Arab culture is off-limits or cannot be mocked. I’m a comedian of Arab heritage and have performed comedy shows not only for Arab-American groups across the United States, but also in the Middle East, from Egypt to Qatar to Saudi Arabia. I find the biggest laughs are elicited when performers hold up a comic mirror to Arab culture.

But for some reason, the entertainment industry appears to truly enjoy ridiculing “brown” people, Arabs and Indians, and has no qualms about casting people not of our heritage to portray us. Indeed, just last week Popchips snack company found itself embroiled in a controversy because an ad showed Ashton Kutcher playing an Indian character in brownface, similar to what Cohen is doing in “The Dictator.”

Read the rest here…

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  • bob

    cohen’s films are starting to look fairly racist – borat contained a slew of hostile anti gentile stereotypes, against particularly, the stereotype of eastern european slavs as agricultural peasants & southern americans as slack jawed yokels. now with the dictator he has moved onto hostile north african/arab stereotypes, with a generalised version of a particular & absurd dictator in blackface. whether cohen’s stereotypes are funny or not is a moot point, but cohen’s characters are always easy targets, ones a mainstream audience can laugh along with, & can expect very little media defense off. many may take it lightly, but cohen himself changed borat from initially an albanian character to a khazak, after considering the implications to his his personal wsafety of deeply offending albanians, a large subset of whom reside in london alongside cohen & have very strong self identities. that says a lot.

  • Joe

    Cohen is depply invested in making every day people look like anti-semites and arabs look less than human.

  • Géji

    Skeptic Says: “As SBC said on Howard Stern, He was just mocking the anti-Semitism of the Arab world instead of blaming the dictators who put them in this predicament.”

    Moronic @Skeptic, define what makes one “a Semite” first, for you to then in order to truly understand what make one “a anti-Semite”. Example, would you deny the great blame of the horrific tragedy bestowed upon Arab Semite in Palestine for the past 80 years or so belong due Zionists anti-Semitism ?

  • Skeptic

    Oh Please.
    As SBC said on Howard Stern, He was just mocking the anti-Semitism of the Arab world instead of blaming the dictators who put them in this predicament.

  • Tingly

    I have a news story you should cover. Dean Obeidallah is asking a hate site run by an Israeli extremist to promote his documentary, whilst telling them they are a hate site which they are. The site is run by Israeli extremists, who pretend to be Palestinians, david lange and brian in London, as exposed by Richard Silverstein.

    Why is he doing this?

    Israellycool Makes Dean’s List
    http://www.israellycool.com/2012/05/13/israellycool-makes-deans-list/
    Meanwhile, Dean asked if we would mention this new documentary he is co-directing.

    Aussie Dave, Anonymous No Longer
    http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2011/12/30/aussie-dave-anonymous-no-longer/
    Aussie Dave is David H. Lange.

    Aussie Dave, JIDF Forge Fake Facebook Accounts, Identities on Behalf of Hasbara Jihad
    http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2011/12/30/aussie-dave-jidf-forge-fake-facebook-accounts-identities-on-behalf-of-hasbara-jihad/

  • Sean

    Obeidallah wants more Arab input into Zionist propaganda films like this? Does he think a sleazy racist film like this would be redeemed with an Arab actor as the lead?

    There is a bigger problem here than a racist Jew doing a minstrel show in Arabface; it’s the purpose of this and all of Cohen’s work. His movies and shows are a vehicle for the dissemination of boilerplate Zionist hate propaganda and Jewish victimhood mongering.

    Let’s call this bullshit film for what it is: an anti-semitic attack on Arabs, packed to the rafters with the usual Zionist anti-semitic tropes against Arabs. It is a modern-day version of the Eternal Jew–with Arabs as the target–only played for laughs. Except this isn’t a comedy: comedies are funny. Cohen is so aggressively untalented and moronic I cringe watching excerpts from his films.

  • Palestinian

    “Cohen’s stupid movies have been vastly overrated, and his old routine is tired and dry.”

    Exactly. I like to term his form of comedy “loser humor” because it gets old real fast and there’s nothing really funny to anyone with a mind over the age of 3.

  • What’s missing from the discussion and from the equation is that of power differential. To call resistance against occupation, displacement, racism, and the apartheid mentality inherent in Zionism “criticism” that is unfounded because you can point to those of the same class within the critic’s world who do the same thing is such a completely illogical and willfully deceitful statement that it deserves no discussion whatsoever other than what I just pointed out. Those in power control the portrayal of those not in power for a reason. Laughing at oneself in this unequal context is thus doing the work of those who would keep us down. I’d like to know in what way whatsoever any “ethnic” comedian can be considered empowering to those s/he represents. Minstrelsy was also performed by those of the same race as that mocked by such a portrayal. The question is: How do we break out of such representations? How do we overturn such a system of representation? How do we empower ourselves without falling into the trap of becoming simple entertainment for those who exploit and oppress?

  • Whisper

    Its about as stupid as arguing that a character based off of Castro and designed to mock South American dictators is an attack on all Hispanics. Though ashton’s add was racist, he was mocking all South Asians not any dictators or specific ideologies.

  • Abdul-Rahman

    Cohen’s parents were bloodthirsty Zionists if I recall, they even lived in a settlement in “Israel” (occupied Palestine). As for Cohen’s claims about the “dictators” it is “Israel” and the US who prop them up to start with. Cohen’s stupid movies have been vastly overrated, and his old routine is tired and dry.

  • Whisper

    This is completely stupid; Cohen’s movie mocks dictatorships and extremist ideologies, the trailers do not show any Arab stereotypes (no women in burkas, no guys in turbans). Furthermore the most recent trailer makes it clear that COhen’s character isn’t an Arab and mocks anti-Arab racism. The comments dean cites sounds no different from actual statements made by middle eastern dictators; the former dictatorship of Egypt claimed Israel was controlling sharks and it sounds exactly like what Gadaffi would have said. The comparison of it to minstrel shows is nothing more than a self pitying attempt by Dean to lump his own group in with Blacks; which is too idiotic for words, Arab-Americans were never slaves, they were not subject to Jim Crow laws etc. Minstrel shows mocked all Blacks and had no basis in fact; Cohen’s character is based off of dictators just as bizarre and is not an attack on Arabs and there is no racial difference between Cohen and the average Arab.

  • aiman

    Moustaf: “Sacha boren to Howard Stern (Interview): “ The dictator and borat were designed to mock antisemitism and show the utter hypocrisy at work when the Arab world singles out israel and zionism for criticism.“ “ All these dictators blame every thing on zionists“ Said Sacha.
    I think LoonWatch should post this article; It is from the Jewish Journal and the title of the Article is: Sacha cohen to howard stern: You inspired me.”

    Wow, I just googled this. This buries the argument that Cohen is a critical person who is fighting bigotry, he is no different than any ethnocentric tribal person who investigates other groups/identities to further his ideological position. I am skeptical of any Muslim speaker who primarily focuses on Israel or America and has no moral challenge for Muslims. I have heard these types misinterpret the message of Islam to further ugly forms of nationalism. Similarly, Cohen uses his Hollywood, privileged standing to externalise evil, which is a pure fundamentalist trait. How is this guy who is so defensive of Zionism and smears a peaceful Palestinian Christian as a terrorist any sort of legitimate authority? Not only is he a waste of time but a fundamentalist to boot. He also doesn’t complain about Stern’s anti-Palestinian, Zionist racism.

  • HGG

    This is the interview Moustaf alluded to:

    http://www.jewishjournal.com/seriousstern/item/sacha_baron_cohen_to_howard_stern_you_inspired_me_audio_20120508/

    ““All these dictators blame everything on the Zionists,” said Baron Cohen, “it’s a great scapegoat. Now, young people are saying the reason we’re not happy is we’re living in these dictatorships. There’s a guy who’s a trillion-aire who’s sleeping with models and actresses, and we’re here without any rights being persecuted.”

    “Yeah,” Howard agreed, “Forget the Jews. They’re not our problem. The problem is our dictator is killing us.””

    It’s an interesting read.

  • Hard Core Atheist

    May 17th is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

    I would love to see an article on here calling for an end to Homophobia, in the US and worldwide. Homophobia is not much different than islamophobia. Would love to see an article about how Islam is fighting to end homophobia and show people like Spencer, et al. that Islam doesn’t discriminate against anyone.

  • Link182

    So far Sasha has ridiculed blacks, Kazakhs, Arabs and Germans. Perhaps one day an Arab will release a Hollywood blockbuster ridiculing Jews and zionists without being accused of anti semitism.

  • Franczeska

    Does anyone else remember Sacha Baron Cohen’s treatment of the residents of a Roma village in Eastern Europe who appeared in his film ‘Borat’?

  • Senor

    I do not argue against what is PC or what is not PC. I am wondering why certain types of humor are more acceptable than others.

    Why do they not allow a black version of Limbaugh or Stern on Radio? Why do they not have an Arab guy on TV making jokes about crazy Zionists?

    There is an obvious double standard that needs to be addressed.

  • Moustaf

    Sacha boren to Howard Stern (Interview): “ The dictator and borat were designed to mock antisemitism and show the utter hypocrisy at work when the Arab world singles out israel and zionism for criticism.“ “ All these dictators blame every thing on zionists“ Said Sacha.
    I think LoonWatch should post this article; It is from the Jewish Journal and the title of the Article is: Sacha cohen to howard stern: You inspired me

  • Omar

    I haven’t seen this film, but what I’ve seen in Cohen’s promotion appearances makes me cringe. I don’t want this banned or censored in any way, but I just find the popularity mocking Arabs disheartening. My guess is it will be a big hit.

  • Garibaldi

    I’m against PC comedy, just like Dean is, but his point is that we need to discuss some of the negative aspects of this culture of Arab-bashing in Hollywood.

  • mindy1

    As long as people laugh at that type of humor, someone, somewhere will perform it-let’s face it, i’m Jewish have laughed at Jewish jokes 😳

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