The topic of representation and how to “represent” culturally, ethnically, etc. would require a much longer treatise. The discussion following the premiere of the movie The Dictator though needed some historic grounding in what it means to “put on face” and mimic someone else’s race or culture.
This discussion of violence controlled by those who have the power to define the parameters for said violence brings us to Sasha Cohen, and his portrayal of an Arab leader in his movie The Dictator. In naming the dictator “Gen. Shabazz Aladeen”, pointed reference is made to the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X’s taken name, juxtaposed mockingly against the exoticized “Aladdin” (which removes any religious significance here). In an interview with Howard Stern Cohen states:
“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.”
In a failed bid to play victim, Cohen instead reveals his “Arab-face” minstrelsy; his portrayal of stereotypes are in fact directed at an audience the class of which has controlled the destiny of those living “under dictatorships” for the greater part of the last century, if not the past 500 years. The insinuation here is that such dictatorships are a function of the Arab inability to assume democracy (a great Orientalism, barely worthy of non-scholars such as Bernard Lewis) and claiming falsely that the region has no democratic or, indeed, socialist, pan-Arabist, anti-colonialist, etc. aspects to its past. It is too easy to discuss these neglected historical forces of liberation in the Arab and Muslim world to debunk such heinous racism—Mossadegh, Shari‘ati, Fanon, Memmi, Nasser, etc. (among many, many others) all come quickly to mind—and this, coupled with the fact that the Third World’s leftist realm has been targeted for extermination for decades if not more than a century, only reinforces the hubris of Cohen’s statement.