Tag Archive: Sacha Baron Cohen


Lebanon Considering Legal Action Against Homeland Television Show

The Lebanese government is considering taking legal action against the television series Homeland for the show’s unflattering portrayal of Beirut. Homeland is an award-winning American television fictional series on Showtime that focuses on international affairs and terrorism. The threat of legal action stems from the second episode of the second season entitled “Beirut is Back” which aired on October 7, 2012. Specifically, the episode portrays Hamra Street as a war-torn narrow alleyway infested with terrorist activity. The episode features militants armed with assault weapons shouting commands in Arabic and harassing terrified women. In truth, Hamra Street is a vibrant business district packed with Western-style shops. The episode also features women wearing hair-covering hijabs; however, this is uncommon in this particular area. Furthermore, the episode was filmed in neighboring Israel, not in Beirut. For these reasons, Lebanon’s minister of tourism, Fady Abboud, called the episode a “serious misrepresentation” of the country’s capital and has threatened legal action.

The Lebanese legal threat raises some interesting issues over whether there is even a viable legal claim. At this time, Abboud has not specified what type of legal action Lebanon will pursue. Abboud said, “We are following the case legally. I raised this at the cabinet meeting and the president asked the minister for justice and the minister of communications to see what can be done.” Showtime and Twentieth Century Fox, which produces Homeland, have declined to comment. Similar legal threats were made by Kazakhstan against actor Sacha Baron Cohen over his fictional character Borat featured in the film Borat and the television series Da Ali G Show. In the film and television show, Cohen, a British comedian, pretended to be a foreign journalist from Kazakhstan named Borat. The Borat character depicts the country of Kazakhstan as anti-Semitic and claims that Kazakh citizens enjoy drinking horse urine, shooting dogs, and regard rape and incest as enjoyable pastimes. In 2005, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry threatened to sue Borat for portraying Kazakhstan in a derogatory way. Kazakh officials never specified what legal theory they would base any legal action on.

The Lebanese legal threat also allows us to examine the prevalence of stereotypes in television shows and movies. Middle Eastern countries have long complained that the Arab terrorist stereotype has been allowed to flourish in Western popular culture. Professor Jad Melki, director of the Media Studies Program at the American University of Beirut, explains, “the portrayal of Arabs in the US is that we are all Islamists living in the desert, evil and angry all the time…If you look at US media, racist stereotypes of African Americans have all but disappeared but it is still acceptable to stereotype Arabs.” Indeed, the Homeland episode reinforces negative stereotypes about progressive and Westernized Arab areas like the commercial business district where Hamra Street is located. Lebanon certainly has a reasonable fear that this stereotype will deter tourism.

Because it remains unclear where the Lebanese government would sue Homeland and what legal theory they would base the lawsuit on, a full legal analysis is difficult.  Joseph Peter Drennan, an international lawyer, explains that the Lebanese government would have a lot of problems suing the show’s producers for defamation in an American court because there would be a lot of difficulty finding a plaintiff that would have standing. Drennan believes that the Lebanese government is likely considering a group libel claim which he believes would not be successful in American courts because it would be difficult to show that an individual suffered actual damages. In addition, the fact that Homeland is a fictional show makes any legal claim by the Lebanese government or an individual extraordinarily difficult. Furthermore, it will be very difficult for Lebanese officials to argue that the filming of the show constitutes a misrepresentation because it is a common practice in the film industry to film fictional shows in a location that portrays a different location. Interestingly, it also is possible that the Lebanese government may sue outside of the United States. Ultimately, where the suit is filed and the legal theory used by the Lebanese government matters. Regardless, a better solution for Lebanon is to turn to free market forces to effectuate change. Abboud has said, “I am calling on all young Lebanese adults to do what they need to do; to write blogs, to call the BBC and CNN to try to raise awareness that Beirut is not a city of Kalashnikov and war.” Indeed, the best course of action is for Lebanon to use the negative publicity in a positive way. Again, Borat can serve as an interesting example. In response to Borat, the Kazakhstani government ran advertisements promoting Kazakstan in major U.S. newspapers and commercials on major U.S. television stations. Kazakhistan’s foreign minister, Yerzhan Kazykhanov, now claims that Borat increased tourist visa applications ten-fold. “It was a great triumph for us,” the foreign minister said, “and I am grateful to Borat for helping to attract tourists to Kazakhstan.”

Anti-Muslim Film Actress Loses Legal Challenge to Remove Movie from YouTube

An actress who had a role in the controversial anti-Muslim film Innocence of Muslims that sparked global riots in the Muslim world lost her legal challenge to get a judge to order the movie taken off YouTube. The controversial 14-minute video portrays Muhammad as a “womanizer, religious fraud, and child molester.” The actress, Cindy Lee Garcia, filed suit in a California Superior Court in Los Angeles and requested that Judge Luis Lavin order the movie to be removed from YouTube. Garcia claimed she was duped by the film’s producer and filmmaker. Specifically, Garcia said that producer and filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (also known as Sam Bacile) initially characterized the film as a historical adventure that contained nothing about Islam and did not attack Mohammed. However, Garcia claims that the title of the movie was originally Desert Warrior but had been changed to Innocence of Muslims and that her lines were altered by the time the film had been uploaded to YouTube. Garcia’s attorney argued that Garcia “did not sign on to be a bigot.”

Judge Lavin rejected Garcia’s request to have YouTube remove the film because Nakoula had not been served a copy of the lawsuit. Judge Lavin also noted that Garcia was not able to produce any agreement she had with the makers of the film. Furthermore, Judge Lavin cited a federal law that protects third parties from liability for content they disperse. Judge Lavin noted that the video, although incendiary, does not violate YouTube’s terms of service regarding hate speech. In response to Judge Lavin’s ruling, Garcia and her attorney claim that they will acquire more evidence to strengthen their case before returning to court in the next few weeks.

The controversial movie has reportedly sparked anti-American riots in several Muslim countries and was supposedly a catalyst in the killing of embassy officials in Libya, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. YouTube has blocked users in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Indonesia, India, and Egypt from viewing the anti-Muslim movie, because it violates laws in those countries. Garcia says she has received death threats and is no longer allowed to provide childcare for her grandchildren because of fear for their safety. There have been other efforts to have the video removed from YouTube. A week earlier, the White House had asked YouTube to take the video down but the company refused, explaining that the “video doesn’t violate its content standards.”

Garcia’s suit raises some interesting legal issues because the actress claims that the filmmaker and producer deliberately concealed the film’s purpose and content when Garcia was recruited. Moreover, Garcia alleges that important changes were made after filming was completed, most notably altered lines. The fraud claim against the filmmaker is similar to claims made by those who said they were tricked by actor Sacha Baron Cohen during the making of Borat. Cohen, a British comedian, was unsuccessfully sued by some non-actors who appeared in his film Borat who weren’t familiar with his unusual character. In the film, Cohen pretended to be a foreign journalist named Borat from Kazakhstan. The movie set up fake scenarios featuring non-actors whose interactions with Cohen’s character were filmed under the impression that the individuals were taking part in a documentary about the U.S. Specifically, the suit involved fraternity members from a South Carolina college who appeared intoxicated. The students made insulting comments about women and minorities to Cohen’s character. After the film’s release, the students brought suit against the filmmakers and producers claiming that they were duped; the students sought an injunction to stop the studio from displaying their image and likeness. The students had signed waivers but argued that the waivers were ambiguous and limited to a documentary-style film; the students also argued that the filmmakers got them drunk before they signed the forms. That suit was dismissed because the students had failed to show a reasonable probability of success on the merits of their case or that monetary damages would be insufficient to resolve their claims. Comparing the Borat case with the Innocence of Muslims case, Jeremiah Reynolds notes, “Although this is a much more serious situation, the (legal) analysis should be the same…It’s an act that is protected by the First Amendment.”




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