Dead dictator prank steals the Oscars show

Hot favourite The Artist monopolised the top honours at last night’s Academy Awards, with nostalgia the theme of the night. But Sacha Baron Cohen refused to play to the script...

For anybody who tuned in hoping for shock upsets and moments of farce, last night’s Academy Awards were a disappointment.

The nostalgia-fest predicted by critics came to pass. Silent comedy The Artist played the lead, with five Oscars including best film, director and actor. In the supporting role was Hugo, Martin Scorcese‘s homage to early cinema, which equalled The Artist‘s trophy-count despite missing out on the big ones.

Christopher Plummer completed the theme of venerable age by becoming the oldest ever winner of an Oscar for acting. ‘You’re only two years older than me, darling,’ the 82-year-old sweet-talked his first statuette, ‘where have you been all my life?’

On the red carpet there were no wildly eccentric outfits to rival Björk‘s 2001 swan dress. Elegant, understated whites and reds seemed to get the highest approval – though Oscar Queen Meryl Streep‘s luxuriant gold gown was an exception.

Like a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, everything onstage followed the script. But one actor had not learned his lines: the ever-outrageous Sacha Baron Cohen, star of controversial comic romps like Borat and Ali G.

The British comedian appeared on the scene in the character of his next satirical taboo-buster, a dictator with a strong resemblance to late Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Dressed in a flamboyant fake admiral’s uniform and flanked by pouting female ‘bodyguards,’ he fell a long way foul of the Awards’ black tie dress code.

Baron Cohen claimed that the urn under his arm contained the remains of the tyrant Kim Jong-il, who died in December. Half way through explaining how the North Korean leader had dreamed of having his ashes scattered over the red carpet, he ‘accidentally’ upended the urn all over a journalist’s tuxedo.

The remains of Kim Jong-il bore a suspiciously strong relationship to baking mix Bisquick, it was later reported.

Admirable admiral?

Who, ask his detractors, does Sacha Baron Cohen think he is? It is insensitive at best to joke about murderous dictators, especially as a cheap publicity stunt at the world’s most respected awards ceremony. Pulling such an offensive prank and calling it satire will not wash: this was simply crass and juvenile.

Lighten up, say others. The Oscars should be entertainment, but far too often the event is smug, stale and self-congratulatory. Sacha Baron Cohen’s joke was bold and refreshing – after all, kicking sacred cows is part of what comedy is all about.

You Decide

  1. Was Baron Cohen’s stunt funny or just rude?
  2. Why do so many good jokes come at someone else’s expense?


  1. As a class, award your own Oscar for Best Film of 2011. Anyone can nominate a film, saying a few words about why their candidate should win. Then choose a winner through a class vote.
  2. Imagine you are a gossip columnist who witnessed Sacha Baron Cohen’s prank. Write a column describing the event and your opinion of it.

Some People Say...

“Sacha Baron Cohen is an attention-seeking idiot.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What’s the point of The Oscars?
The Academy Awards are the grand finale of the film world’s ‘awards season’. Winners are elected by a group of about 6,000 industry insiders. They are often taken as a measure of film culture and the influence of winners is boosted. However there are criticisms: marketing is increasingly important when choosing winners, and the judges – mostly old, white and male – are often attacked for lacking diversity.
In 84 years things must have changed a lot?
The first ceremony in 1929 lasted 15 minutes and tickets cost $5. Back then voters chose a dog named Rin Tin Tin as Best Actor, although this was overturned. Today’s event is one of the most exclusive in the world, and certainly can be a bit of a marathon: in 2000, the Oscars lasted for 4 hours and 16 minutes.

Word Watch

Martin Scorcese
One of the most famous and respected directors in the world, Martin Scorcese has won Oscars and Golden Globes galore. He was also named the 2nd greatest director ever by Total Film. His latest feature, Hugo, was a commercial disaster – but the critics adored it.
Eccentric Icelandic pop star Björk Guðmundsdóttir (there’s a reason she’s known by her first name) has also dabbled in acting, winning huge acclaim for her role in 2000’s Dancer In The Dark. The dress she wore to the following Oscars, composed of a swan twisted around her neck, is almost as famous as Björk herself.
Meryl Streep
17 Oscar nominations and three wins spanning a period of 34 years have made Meryl Streep an Academy institution. In her acceptance speech for the latest one last night she sounded almost embarrassed by her constant presence: ‘I had this feeling I could hear half of America going “aw, come on, her again?”’
Muammar Gaddafi
Colonel Gaddafi was infamous for his cruelty and iron grip on power. But his odd habits and over-the-top dress sense also earned him the reputation of being vain, even perhaps a dandy. Baron Cohen’s guards are a clear reference to Gaddafi’s all-female Amazonian Guard.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.