'Borat' Backlash Brings Anger, Lawsuits

ByABC News

Nov. 11, 2006 — -- The film "Borat" is the surprise hit of the fall, netting almost $26 million its first weekend. But it also takes comedy to different and darker places than ever before -- and maybe that's why the lawsuits have started.

Borat presents himself to filmgoers -- and to many unsuspecting real people in the movie -- as a bumbling reporter from Kazakhstan. But he's actually a British, Cambridge-educated comedian named Sacha Baron Cohen.

Artist Linda Stein, creator of works like "Woman Warrior," unknowingly played a part in the film.

"Give me a smile baby; why angry face?" Borat says to Stein in the film.

"Well, what you're saying is very demeaning. Do you know the word demeaning?" she asks.

"No," he responds.

Speaking to ABC News, Stein still did not feel much like smiling.

"What he does is he really makes people look like jerks," she said. "And I find that problematic."

Cohen's dark political humor, hidden behind Borat's mustache and misogyny, has certainly struck a chord both in Britain and in the United States.

"We support your war of terror," Borat tells a crowd of cheering Americans in the film.

But when real people are involved and candor becomes comedy, trouble can follow.

Two college students, who claim they were given alcohol and encouraged to be outrageous, are suing.

"Our contention is that they were set up and made to say things they don't believe," said the students' attorney, Olivier Taillieu. "They want to be cut from the movie and they want financial compensation."

For Baron Cohen, it's all about the alter ego. Before becoming Borat, he was Ali G on HBO, fooling the older and wiser into believing he was the younger and hipper host of a streetwise show for teens.

ABC News' own Sam Donaldson fell for it.

"It was 'Waterworld' that brought down the president?" Baron Cohen asked Donaldson in an episode of HBO's "Da Ali G Show."

"Watergate," Donaldson told him.

Later, Donaldson told ABC News, "I was got; I was had, but so what?"

Others haven't shrugged it off so easily -- the people of Kazakhstan, for example.

"If I saw him, I'd kill him straight away," one Kazakh man told ABC News. "We like hunting."

Mahir Cagri, a Turkish music teacher, plans to sue Baron Cohen. He claims Borat is based on him.

Mahir was an Internet sensation back in 1999 when, on his Web site, he offered kisses and tantalizingly revealed that he likes sex and taking nude photos, yet lives alone. There is a resemblance.

"I love nice womans, nice jokes. I am active man," Cagri said. "I can take nude pictures. I can see their body who best, which am good for me."

Mahir's lawsuit is unlikely to be the last that the chameleon comic will face.

Apparently, Baron Cohen has landed a $42 million deal to star in a new movie as another fictional alter ego: Bruno. He's a gay, Austrian fashion reporter and appeared on "Da Ali G Show."

ABC News' Nick Watt reported this story for "Nightline."

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