'Borat' Backlash Brings Anger, Lawsuits

ByABC News
November 11, 2006, 7:00 PM

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?"