It’s hard to imagine how 2012 could be any worse for the world’s hapless and beleaguered dictators and warlords after that (ahem) horrible Arab Spring craze last year – with people-power movements toppling despots in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.
Consider the arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, issued by the International Criminal Court at the Hague, the anticipated human rights investigation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the looming trials of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré and former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, the pending verdict on former Liberian President Charles Taylor, and the ongoing manhunt for Joseph Kony, warlord and founder of the genocidal Lord’s Resistance Army in the dense borderlands of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As if that list of indignities wasn’t long enough, we can add another dictator to the list of the banned: General Aladeen.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has banned a certain General Aladeen from attending the 84th annual Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 26.
Technically, General Aladeen isn’t a real person – he’s a character portrayed by the satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of “Borat” and “The Ali G Show,” as well as the voice of King Julian in “Madagascar.” A movie portraying the general, entitled "Dictator," is due to open later this year.
It should also be mentioned that General Aladeen’s country, the Republic of Wadiya, doesn’t exist on any maps and no country profiles have been found on Wikipedia. (Note: this may have changed. We checked last at 10:23 a.m. on Thursday).
But for the academy, General Aladeen – if not an actual real person – is a real problem. The academy doesn’t want Mr. Cohen, the actor who portrays Aladeen, to show up to the awards ceremony as Aladeen. They think that it would be inappropriate to “hijack” the ceremony with a publicity stunt. Like that would ever happen in Hollywood.
“Unless they’re assured that nothing entertaining is going to happen on the Red Carpet, the Academy is not admitting Sacha Baron Cohen to the show,” a spokesman for Paramount Pictures told movie blog “Deadline.”
That satirical characters might intrude where they aren’t wanted and don’t belong has been evident for quite some time now. Just ask Newt Gingrich, the former US House Speaker and current presidential candidate, who was … how to say this? … duped into giving an interview with Sacha Baron Cohen in one of his other comedic personas, the British hip-hop talk show host Ali G. Watch this, o political press secretary, and embrace the modern miracle of Google Search.
But for this column, the matter of greater concern is the fact that dictators have now become the butt of jokes and the subject for a satirical Hollywood movie shows.
How far hath dictators fallen. Just a few years ago, Hollywood could be depended upon to portray dictators as fearsome, wily, or at the very least, edgy. Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin in the 2006 film, “The Last King of Scotland” was a high-water mark of Attila-the-Hun-like gravitas. There were exceptions to this rule, of course (Naked Gun?). And who can forget Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator?” But in general, Hollywood saw dictators as they preferred to be seen: in fear.
Human rights observers would assert that there are still plenty of dictators out there, and that there are even a few democratically elected leaders – in Senegal and, of course, in Zimbabwe – who have begun to experiment with their inner despotic tendencies by staying in power longer than originally planned.
But where’s the joy of staying in power, if the world openly, cinematically mocks you?
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