Arizona town 'heartbroken' after Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Who Is America?' brands them racist

Ben Arnold
Contributor
Sacha Baron Cohen (Credit: Reuters/Paul Hackett)

A town in Arizona is the latest to kick back against Sacha Baron Cohen and his new TV series Who Is America?

Residents of Kingman, in Mohave County, unwittingly took part in one of Cohen’s skits in the show’s latest episode.

Posing as his provocatively ultra-liberal character Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, he brought together locals from the town to propose a new project, which he then reveals is ‘the largest mosque outside the Middle East’.

The residents in attendance then turn on Cohen, with one linking the word ‘mosque’ to ‘terrorism’, and another saying that black people weren’t welcome in the town and are merely ‘tolerated’.

Cohen also brings up that the town was once home to Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, who he confrontationally describes as ‘a civil rights activist’.

One member of the crowd openly announced he was ‘racist towards muslims’, while another said that a rendering of the planned mosque would ‘look good in a fire’.

However, speaking to The Washington Post, the town’s mayor has said that she ‘didn’t recognise a soul’ in the video, and has slammed Cohen for implying Kingman is racist.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Dr Nira Cain-N’Degeocello (Credit: Showtime)

An official statement published on the town’s Facebook page reads: “Every city has resident voices that challenge respect and dignity for others. They are wrong and unfortunate. That was no exception on Sunday’s Who Is America? show on Showtime in which an actor baited purported residents to vociferously oppose a fictitious, supersized mosque in our city.

“Another in the audience also stated negative feelings towards African-Americans. No matter the instigation or that numerous ‘focus group’ participants don’t even live in Kingman, the show’s characterization in the words of one member of our Kingman City Council ‘broke her heart.’

“Why? Because our community has made great strides to erase previous perceptions. We do have a mosque. We do have a robust Latino community. We do welcome tourists from all over the world, especially more and more from Asia fascinated by our Route 66 history. We do have African-Americans applying for leadership positions with the city. This is the Kingman of today, not of yesterday.”

Town Mayor Monica Gates, who has lived there for 30 years, added that people in the segment wrongly referred to themselves as ‘Kingmaners’ – when the more common term is ‘Kingmanites’ – and that she also did not recognise the building the meeting took place in when shown in external shots.

Showtime, which Gates said did not make any contact with the town ahead of filming, has declined to comment on how the town was chosen, or whether all those involved in the meeting lived in the town.

The statement from the town goes on: “But shrugging this off is not going to be us. We’re going to use this opportunity to keep moving our community forward with the help of many community stakeholders including the Kingman Interfaith Council. And while we’ve been making progress the comments in the show, fairly or unfairly, show that we still have more work to do.”

In addition, it says that the town is intending to host events for National Hispanic Heritage Month in September, will be taking extra steps to honour Martin Luther King Junior Day in January, and is planning to further develop the town’s first ‘diversity commission’.

The show has already hit headlines, skewering the likes of Dick Cheney and a number of US congressmen who endorsed an initiative to arm toddlers to help protect against school shootings.

This week, Georgia state representative Jason Spencer resigned after he was filmed shouting racial slurs and exposing himself in a spoof segment about anti-terrorism techniques.

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