Seeing established funnyman Sacha Baron Cohen put aside his cartoonish personas and actually talk seriously about racial diversity in Hollywood during Sunday’s 2016 Oscar ceremony red carpet was shocking, and even Baron Cohen himself acknowledged the rarity of his austere moment during his monologue.
Sacha has become an extremely well-known cinematic comedian for his popular, yet more-often-than-not offensive comedies, especially the ones he has made over the last ten years.
Almost all of his live-action roles in the last decade have been rude comedies, both mockumentary and otherwise, in which he has caricatured people of other nationalities, usually from an offensive angle. They include Borat (2006), in which he very convincingly puts on the exaggerated face of a Kazakh journalist; Bruno (2009), in which he plays a gay Austrian supermodel; The Dictator (2012), in which he depicts a middle Eastern dictator; and his new movie just released this week, in which he embodies a British football hooligan.
Baron Cohen even makes a point to avoid showing up out of character to non-cinematic public appearances like awards shows and interviews; Telegraph points out that for Sacha to give an interview “as himself” is rare.
Because Baron Cohen is so good at fusing his own identity with his series of larger-than-life characters. and since he has been in the press for doing so for such a long time, it is very easy to forget he is actually a real person with real opinions, not a cartoon.
It is for this reason that it was especially poignant — and rather shocking — when Sacha Baron Cohen put the funny business on hold “for once,” as the BBC puts it, at the 2016 Oscars.
Judging by his public persona, one probably would have expected Cohen’s talk about diversity in movie casts and crew to be laced with racist and sexist assertions, but he actually dug down and delivered a very thoughtful minute-long sermon on the very serious topic without even a hint of comedy.
Only further exaggerating the stark contrast between Sacha’s modus operandi (a foolish buffoon with an exaggerated accent) and his serious persona was Baron Cohen’s very prim-and-proper-sounding Queen’s English accent, which (many think) is not an act.
“I don’t think the Academy is racist at all, but I think there is institutional racism here,” he continued.
“It’s not intentional, but there needs to be affirmative action to get more people of color – Latinos and African Americans – in at every level of the industry, which they aren’t. We’re here in LA, with one of the biggest African American populations in America, and yet Hollywood is almost exclusively white.”
Sacha’s serious interlude at the 2016 Oscars shocked news sources and fans alike, even making some people a little uncomfortable.
Even Baron Cohen recognized how odd it was that he was putting on his serious cap and drew attention to it in his rhetoric.
“There we go! Me being serious. What do you think?” Sacha finished with a smile.
The question is, was Baron Cohen’s new persona real or just his next movie character the proper English gentleman? Way to cry wolf, Sacha.
[Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images]