Unfortunately, most Americans’ conception of Kazakhstan comes primarily from the Sacha Baron Cohen movie Borat, which was released in 2006. The movie starred a wacky TV reporter visiting the US and getting into hilarious real-life situations often based on a hyperbolic portrayal of Khazak culture. The film was a sensation, but Kazakhstan itself wasn’t exactly thrilled with its portrayal. It was actually banned in Kazakhstan, and the government filed several lawsuits against Cohen.
According to the New York Times, Kairat Sadvakassov, the deputy chairman of Khazakstan’s tourism board, said, “The decision was made to let it die its natural death and not respond.”
Fast forward 14 years to the release of Borat 2, and it’s a completely different story. Now the government and tourism industry are being more lenient. Thanks to globalization, availability of information, and proliferation of English in Kazakhstan, Kazakh citizens are believed to be more in on the joke this time.
Dennis Keen, a former exchange student to Kazakhstan, eventually moved there permanently and started a business giving walking tours of Almaty, and hosts a travel show on the state TV channel. When Keen learned about the sequel, he thought it could be the perfect opportunity to revive tourism in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I just had a baby,” Keen told the Times. “When he grows up, I don’t want him to be ashamed of Borat. I want him to say, ‘That’s when my dad started this whole fun project.’”
That’s why Keen and a friend pitched the board of tourism on producing short video spots featuring people walking around Kazakhstan and saying Borat’s signature catchphrase: “Very nice!”
The movie also came out at an opportune time, when no destinations want to actually spend money on tourism promotion.
According to Sadvakassov, “In COVID times, when tourism spending is on hold, it was good to see the country mentioned in the media. Not in the nicest way, but it’s good to be out there. We would love to work with Cohen, or maybe even have him film here.”
A change of heart, indeed.
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