He refused for many years to give interviews as himself. He sometimes spoke like his characters. He tended to pass up criticism without rebuttal, such as when reporters questioned whether Ali G was in Al Jolson’s tradition and when Abe Foxman, the former director of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized Borat, fearing that the character cannot incite anti-Semitism because some people might miss the irony.
After the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., A dismayed Mr. Baron Cohen contacted Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the ADL, who persuaded the star to deliver the opening address of the ADL summit in last year, Never Is Now.
“I was so impressed with his intelligence,” Mr. Greenblatt said. “These questions are at the heart of his motivation for his unique art style. More than anyone in public life today, he exposes prejudices – whether anti-Semitism, homophobia, or rank racism – for what they are, ashamed, heartbreaking, and ignorant. (In fact, Mr. Baron Cohen used Hebrew and some Polish as a substitute for the Kazakh language in Borat.)
The actor began his speech by saying that, to be clear, “when I say ‘racism, hatred and bigotry’, I am not referring to the names of Stephen Miller’s Labradoodles. He later noted that while his stunts could be “juvenile” and “childish,” at least some are aimed at getting people to reveal what they really believed, such as “when Borat was able to get a whole bar in. Arizona for singing “Throw the Jew into the Well,” It revealed people’s indifference to anti-Semitism. “
Burning down the cloud lords, he said Facebook will launch and micro-target any “political” advertising that anyone wants, even if it’s a lie. “If Facebook existed in the 1930s,” he said, “it would have allowed Hitler to run 30-second ads about his ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem’.”
The speech catalyzed the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign, with a coalition of civil rights groups and Mr. Baron Cohen arguing over celebrities. Making the speech was “completely out of my comfort zone,” he said, because “I have always been reluctant to be a celebrity and have always been reluctant to use my fame to push political opinions, really.