Sacha Baron Cohen has spent the last two decades of his career in character, but it wasn’t until last November at the Anti-Defamation League’s 2019 Never is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate that Cohen spoke for the first time as the man behind the characters: himself.
The ADL’s International Leadership Award recipient believes that pluralistic democracies are on a precipice and that the next twelve months, and the role of social media, could be determinant. The actor reinforces this message in an essay published at the beginning of October in Time Magazine called “Sacha Baron Cohen: We Must Save Democracies From Conspiracies.” He has also been increasingly active and political on his Twitter page.
Cohen’s message is clear. In his keynote address at ADL’s Never is Now Summit Cohen states that social media platforms, specifically Facebook, “spread hate, conspiracies, and lies,” and it is time to rethink them fundamentally. In his Time Magazine essay, he calls them the “greatest propaganda machine in history.” He places blame on this propaganda machine for spreading the conspiracy theory that Jewish people are somehow dangerous.
Bridie O’Sullivan, a sophomore biology major, said: “I’ve never thought of social media being used for spreading conspiracy theories. I think it’s an interesting point that I’m not sure if I fully believe because of how deep they run in society, but now I will look out for it.”
Cohen recently got attention on Twitter when he offered President Donald Trump a job because he is “always looking for people to play racist buffoons, and you’ll [Trump] need a job after Jan. 20.” This tweet was in response to a tweet by Steve Herman, the Voice of America White House Bureau Chief, tweeting about Trump’s response to a journalist on Air Force One asking him if he has seen “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”
Trump responded, “I don’t know what happened. But years ago, you know, [Cohen] tried to scam me, and I was the only one who said no way. That’s a phony guy, and I don’t find him funny.” Cohen had interviewed Trump in 2003 as one of his characters, Ali G, trying to get Trump to invest in an ice cream glove. Trump walked out of the interview.
Cohen is most famous for his satire that he calls “pubescent” in his Time Magazine essay. Camille White, a sophomore public policy science major at this university said, “I think that his skits are funny and embody an honest satire that not many other people can make.”
Many critics believe that Cohen’s comedy may reinforce old stereotypes. Cohen said in his Time Magazine essay, “when it works, satire can humble the powerful and expose the ills of society.”
Cohen also said he gets people to reveal what they genuinely believe through his satire and exposes the ignorance present in our modern lives.
Peyton Siegel, a sophomore public policy major, said: “I think that educated people can understand the message he sends about antisemitism, but uneducated people interpret them more realistically, making the message he’s trying to send unsuccessful in that they don’t understand what he’s truly trying to portray in his work.”
Cohen was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. After writing his thesis on Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, Cohen graduated from Cambridge University. In 2007, he won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”
Cohen has won 17 awards for his various performances. Most recently he was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television in the 2020 Golden Globes for his performance in “The Spy.”